Am I Musical?

The super-fine Raphael Saadiq (Photo: passionweiss.com)

When it comes to being musical, I believe I am thoroughly average. How about you?

This is my musical history:

My mom identifies as being non-musical. However, she saw Johnny Cash in 1958 so she has good taste! My dad takes every opportunity to sing. Mom read stories to us kids every night, and Dad sang us songs from his large repertoire. Dad had a record player from a young age and spent money on records, and later, hi-fi reel-to-reel tapes, which was cutting edge in his day! However, neither of my parents, nor anyone in their families, played a musical instrument.

When I was little, my musical exposure outside of home was church hymns and occasional community events that included a concert. Being a child of the 60s and 70s, I can actually remember going to family sing-alongs where we’d sing songs like If I Had a Hammer and Blowin’ in the Wind! (Those are old folkie tunes, for those who don’t know!)

That’s me in the red sweater! (age 11)

We had music as a subject in school – we learned songs, sang in the school choir, and participated in school concerts. Starting at age 9, kids could opt to learn to play the recorder, and the next year, start on ukulele. I took recorder for 2 years and I must say, that is how I learned to read music and I haven’t forgotten it.

Unfortunately, that is as far as my musical education ever went. Fast forward to age 16, and I took lessons on the acoustic guitar for 6 months. Living in a rural area, the only teacher available taught a finger-picking style that wasn’t to my taste. I soon lost interest, but not before figuring out how to pick out the melody lines of my favourite rock songs note-for-note! I never learned to play a single chord, which leaves me useless when it comes to strumming at the campfire.

So, I channelled all of my musical energy into being a music fan instead of a musician. From age 13 onward, I was obsessed with listening to music, starting with pop and moving on to rock within the first two years. Yes, I do have a soft spot for ABBA and the Bee Gees!

Ant Music for Ant People!

Ant Music for Ant People!

All of my teen years were completely consumed with reading music magazines, browsing record stores, buying albums, listening to music and going to concerts. I was fabulously lucky to have lived through the dawning of classic rock, prog rock, punk, metal, glam, new wave and post-punk. And although I was an adult when grunge and techno came along, I was still thrilled by them! Plus, there was all of musical history to draw on. My parents had liked rock n’ roll and the crooners; my aunts introduced me to what my parents called “acid rock” (LOL!) and I educated myself about the Beatles and the Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Doors and Janis Joplin and (later), my idol, Patti Smith.

I do have one regret. I spent many, many years dating musicians and watching them practice for endless hours. If I had spent even a tenth of that time learning an instrument instead of being a hanger-on, I’d be a master by now!

So can you guess that I turned into a witchy mom who forced music lessons and endless hours of practice on my kid? Well, I hope not. I signed Link up for recorder lessons at age 6, only to find out that the schools still offer it at age 8, so Link got a double dose!

Link wanted to play violin, and our local schools offer free lessons through my very own tax dollars (Yay, Dartmouth All City Music Program!) So Link took group lessons for 6 years, and added flute when it came time to choose a school band instrument. I thought that the twice-weekly lessons and additional concert practices were enough, so I didn’t push practicing at home, but some did happen spontaneously. Link ended up with much better formal music knowledge than I have, and better exposure to classical music as well.

In the past few years I took out Link’s old recorder and re-learned how to play it; I even upgraded to a maple one and learned a few songs – my very favourite to play is the Irish ballad “Star of the County Down”… because I can!

When I really work it, I can sound like Sarah Harmer for brief periods :)

When I really work it, I can sound like Sarah Harmer for brief periods 🙂

I am not sure how I fare as a singer. Because I worked as a children’s librarian, I have actually had to sing in public at story times. After many years, I finally got to the point where if someone asks me how a song goes, I will sing a bit of it! I think my voice is quite acceptable but within a very narrow alto range. Of course I sing in the car, etc, but I know my limits. I belt out Motown hits in private!

My life and my home have always been filled with music – if not making it, then listening to it. I am still a rabid music fan and spend many, many hours reading up on new bands, playing their songs and videos, and collecting music in various formats. While I like all types of rock music, I am partial to indie these days – or bands that used to be indie before they sold out, LOL! And as you know, I go to as many rock concerts as possible.

Image: clker.com

Image: clker.com

Music has been an obsession and a joy for me for decades.

How musical are you?

21 comments

  1. Hmm I was ‘musical’ in school (a tiny bit more on that in my 100th post :p) but otherwise, I wouldn’t call myself musical now. That being said, I love a singalong in the car (the bf loathes it!), but I’m not in the church choir (I used to get asked that every week – cause being young must equal being in the choir!). I go to a handful of concerts a year at most. I have a pretty diverse range of ‘likes’ which surprise all – such as RnB and hip hop.

  2. EcoCatLady

    Well… music has been a pretty integral part of my life as long as I can remember. I think I learned to read music before I could read words – it always struck me as a much simpler system than printed text! I’ve played numerous instruments, but always come back to singing, which just resonates with me on some sort of a visceral level.

    The ironic part is that while I LOVE to play music, and pretty much am always humming a song, I’m not that into listening to it these days. I guess it’s always struck me as a participatory sort of a thing. To me, the fun part is improvising harmonies and hanging out with my music buddies. Maybe that’s why I ran a folk music school for 16 years! 🙂

    Anyhow, have you ever explored playing in a recorder consort? In their day recorders were pretty much the quintessential DIY musical instrument. While most of us learn to play the soprano recorder (the little ones) they actually come in 4 different registers (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) – well, actually there’s more than that, but those are the principal ones. Traditional recorder music was written for the consort – meaning one part for each of the 4 instruments. And the music was printed on a giant sheet of paper with one part facing each edge, so that it could be laid out on a table and each player could see their own part.

    OK… that’s probably more information than you wanted or needed, I just think it’s really neat.

    • I once met someone who didn’t listen to recorded music and thought all music should be participatory; while I understand it, I would never give up listening to other people who are infinitely more talented than me! It’s funny you should mention about a recorder consort. I went to a concert of early music played on multi-part recorders and thought that’s something I might like! Plus maybe I would get to wear a velvet gown, LOL!

  3. Fiona

    Once again, I’m so glad I read your blog!

    Neither DH nor I have a musical bone in our bodies! It bothers me greatly that we might be inflicting our lack of knowledge on our son. I’ve tried to suggest music lessons to him before but no response yet.

    Now, you’ve reminded me that I did learn recorder in Grade 3 and later the basics of tenor and soprano recorder. There is nothing to stop us buying a recorder and teaching our son the basics of reading music at home. I’m sure this would be a great introduction that might lead to more interest! Thanks 🙂

    • Good idea. Although I must say I have never known a skateboarder who didn’t eventually pick up a rock instrument, so brace yourself for drums or guitars and amps! Or steer him toward what you like by buying him an electronic drum pad now!

    • They didn’t inflict the recorder at school? I thought it was a tradition!

  4. I too learnt the recorder at school- probably when I was about four…and then at middle school when I was about ten I learnt the guitar (never really got the hang of chords…my friend that I learnt with is now a music teacher…I am not!). When I was 14 I decided to learn the trumpet so that I could take music as a subject. I had great fun playing in the school stage band, but although I can read music (not sure I would be great at it now) I would never say that I am naturally musical…in stage band I mostly helped my friend Karl read music, as he was great at actually playing the trumpet, not so not at reading music, the opposite of me!

    • Just about everyone who takes music at school, or learns an instrument as a child, is glad they did. I kind of feel that reading music is like being able to speak another language. It’s too bad more of us don’t play an instrument in adult life, but that is true of all sports as well!

  5. Laura / No More Spending

    I don’t consider myself musical at all but played the recorder (didn’t we all lol), and then the violin until I was 14. I think I stopped when I discovered boys 😉
    My Mum is a mad keen Jazz fan these days (and has dragged me (screaming) to countless jazz clubs), but in my youth all I can remember is her playing Rod Stewart! I’m an R&B girl 🙂

  6. I always wanted to play the piano but my family could not afford the lessons or the piano but when I was thirty I bought a heavily discounted shop demonstration electric model(looks just like an ordinary one but you plug it in. I practiced a bit but we didn’t have any spare cash back then for lessons now we don’t have the time. I still have the piano – I lovingly polish it all the time but I am still waiting for those lessons…maybe when we retire!!

  7. I love singing but apparently am terrible at it so I sing to myself in the car. My dad was once told to mime in the school choir so I am blaming it on him. Surprisingly my boys have got beautiful voices and the younger one plays flute and he’s teaching himself guitar. I love your Adam Ant photograph by the way 🙂

  8. Kris

    Fun post! I’m reasonably musical … I played flute from fourth grade through my senior year of high school and I still occasionally pull it out. I’m in choir at church and love to sing alto. Today I sang a couple of solos in church but my preference is definitely harmonizing in a group–I don’t have time to pull together a group at this point in my life but maybe … someday …

    I was interested in Ecocatlady’s comments about the recorder, as my son learned to play this past year. I had no idea there were so many recorders available. He always “hates” music class but he loved playing and is learning to read music. Hopefully I can convince him to try a band instrument in the next year.

    • Hi Kris, Thanks for visiting. You are definitely musical! I do think recorder is a great tool for teaching kids about music, whether it launches another instrument or not. But hopefully, it will!

  9. Kris

    Oh yeah … I forgot to add … I have a secret closet love of ABBA!

  10. Pingback: Am I Optimistic? | An Exacting Life

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