Sunday, November 17, 2019

Reminiscences: 1975-76, 1978

1. My mother is musically gifted. She plays the piano by ear, although she can also read music. In fact, she met my father because she was helping with the music for a church plant my Dad's father was doing in Indianapolis out of a rented house.

The violin on the left was hers. If I have the story correctly, she bought it off a man in Indy who had played in John Philip Sousa's band. It was my first violin.

I played violin in the fifth grade, as I recall, for Mrs. Stokes at Wilton Manors Elementary School in Florida. I was also in the Florida Singing Sons that year. We sang excerpts from The Sound of Music. Interestingly, I found it difficult to memorize all the words to the songs.

I have sometimes joked that I have a phonographic memory. I do well remembering tunes, harmonies, percussion. My family will attest that I am not so good at getting the lyrics correctly, a source of great irritation to my wife. I can whistle Mozart (as one Houghton student remarked coming upon me on the sidewalk). I can't always get the words quite right to some song I've sung for years.

I had Mrs. Stokes, as I recall, as my Kindergarten music teacher. (Mrs. Giddons was my main teacher for Kindergarten).

2. I took violin lessons along with a couple other students at Sunrise Middle School in the summer of 1978. I don't remember the name of the teacher. I picture him as a somewhat short man with a mustache. I did not practice, I hate to say. My parents got me the slightly larger violin to the right at some point in there.

This was always my difficulty in those days. Short span of attention. A woman in the seat in front of us at a church concert in Vero Beach once asked my mother if I'd been checked for hyperactivity. I suspect I was just being a child and the woman needed to take a chill pill. :-)

My mother's approach was not to force me to learn piano and such. When I expressed interest, she gladly gave me music or a lesson. So to whatever extent I can play the piano (which is not much), I am mostly self-taught. I hated having to follow the fingering of the lessons. Why can't I hit the notes however I can hit the notes?

Of course I agree with the words spoken to me often then--"When you're older you'll wish you had practiced." I knew she was right then and I agree with her now. I have become much more disciplined over the years as my metabolism has slowed down. Youth is, alas, wasted on the young.

3. I think I learned "Turkey in the Straw" in fifth grade (1975-76). I can probably still screech it out. I tried to learn a little vibrato in the seventh grade summer (1978), but I never mastered it.

As for the piano, I was inspired by my brother-in-law, Dalbert Walker. He introduced me to Rondo Capriccioso by Felix Mendelssohn. I got to where I could play quite a bit of the beginning of it just hammering it out on my own. My mother had of course helped me much earlier memorize Fur Elise. Somewhere in there also was Debussy's Claire de Lune. Pieces I aspired to but never attained were Liebestraum by Franz Liszt and Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C Sharp Minor.

This latter piece was a favorite of the man who lived two houses down west from us in "the woods." He and his wife had so many trees around their house that you could hardly see in. It was intentional. But as they got older they became friends with my family. They gave Dalbert a grand piano. Because of the first three notes, he called the Prelude the "O My God" prelude. They were quite explicitly atheist, the only atheists I knew in those years. But they were very nice people and became somewhat reflective in later life, as I recall.

I still tell myself that I will return to the piano when I am retired.

As a note to myself, the man next to us west was Mr. Pritchard. Tony was across the street. The Wilkersons lived across from the woods. The Hartmans (Jennifer's grandfather) and Verdigams across 6th avenue.

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