Music History

Just throw your hands onto the keyboard and see what happens. Don’t think, just type. That’s my motto!

Daniel just got up, said “hello. Pot of beans soaking,” and left. He’s right. There is a pot of beans soaking. He’s the one who put them out to soak yesterday. It’s kind of hard to miss, seeing how there’s a pot of beans in the kitchen. And it’s soaking. Daniel is Mister Obvious sometimes. There are worse things to be, I guess… Mister Mucus Expeller maybe? He’s still got a cold.

Alex was dropped off at 9 in for an all-morning voice seminar. It’s the Alexander Technique he’s working on. I’ve done similar exercises over the years but didn’t realize it was named for my son. Ha! That’s a joke there… Basically it involves relaxing and singing while lying on your back. Then you sit up and try to maintain your muscles in a still-relaxed state, in order to improve your vocal quality. Essentially, it’s namby-pamby yeller singing, involving feelings and empathy and, most likely, leftist tendencies. Ha! Joke there too. Only not really. When I was a kid, we’d just shriek until we hit the right note. Kids these days. If shrieking was good enough for us, it should be good enough for them!

musicI sang all through my teen years, except for the one year I lived in France, where I played piano in the school jazz band. Then I was off to college to study Music Education. My choir director for all of my school years in Gold Beach would retire someday, and I wanted to be his replacement. I think he wanted me to be his replacement. I wanted to do for other kids what he was able to do for me–open up a personality and give a shy kid something to sing about.

My goal was to become a high school choir director, so my emphasis was piano for the first two years. I didn’t see the incongruity until a couple years later. I practiced hard. I followed the standard course of study first two years: Music Theory, musicianship, private lessons, and for a year I took Piano Improvisation.  Kathy Wilson had us play “Near the Cross” in every style imaginable. It was our standard song upon which we’d try new improv tricks: different chords, tweaks in the right hand, rolling or gliding bass lines, or just block chords. In private lessons I played Brahms, Beethoven, Fauré, Schubert.

After my third year, I quit piano as my primary instrument. There were a couple reasons: it was physically demanding and extremely labor-intensive. Piano took hours of intense practice and an excellent memory (my last term as a piano major I was logging 4 hours a day). I was still good, but not great. My sight reading of a piece would never be excellent. I started too late for sight reading to come really easily for me. Also, I wanted to be a choir director. I should have a more thorough grounding in vocal technique. The beginning of my junior year, I began taking vocal lessons with Dr. Mark Hulse. It was a slow go, but I made steady progress.

I would still occasionally play piano for the chapel services at Bethany. It was a 9′ Baldwin Grand piano. Amazing thing, about a hundred years old. My last stint into classical (well, jazz) music was with my amazing flautist friend Susan Cheston Isham, when I played the Claude Bolling Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano. After that, no more piano, really…

Johnson MugIn the meantime, I took music history. I was the student secretary for the Music History prof, so in retyping all his notes so he’d have them all digitized, I basically aced the class. I took a variety of composition classes with Darrel Johnson (counterpoint, and form and analysis) as well as conducting. Ironically, I wasn’t very good at conducting. It’s more than just waving one’s arms around, you know. Darrel expected a lot from us, but if you put in the work he warmed to you. Elementary Musical Methods, and Secondary Music Methods were required courses for my field of study, as was Ethnomusicology. I took brass, woodwinds, percussion and strings classes. I tested out of guitar class because I’d spent my sophomore year in high school learning the instrument.

My second senior year (we had so many course credits, only truly superhuman folks could do the Music Education degree in 4 years), I did a Senior Recital. I sang Copland, Fauré, Handel, Schubert, Ned Rorem and Saint-Saëns. I wore a tux and I looked amazing. I shared the stage with Kristine Mitchell, a friend of mine through all five years.

Kris now does music for a living. I was discouraged because the 1990s were hard in California with Pete Wilson as governor. Music jobs were being cut throughout the state. If I were to go on for my Single Subject teaching credential, I would likely be shuffled between three or four schools (maybe more). Many California schools had no music program whatsoever. I was the music director for a local church while I worked odd jobs. The week before my marriage (June 1993) is the last time I’ve done anything professionally. I took a library job at my alma mater soon after, and never really looked back.

A friend (Thanks Kris York!) gave me her piano. I seldom play it. I’d occasionally pick up my guitar. The humidity destroyed it when the bridge popped completely off the body, a couple years after we moved to Virginia.

These days I live musically through Alex. He has a chance. He’s quite good actually, and could make it as a professional singer, if he wanted to. I try to keep it light, and to let him know how proud I am. His dad was just a wannabe. Excellent singing in that style isn’t easy but he has a knack. So today he’s lying on his back and relaxing his diaphragm, while I’m home typing a blog. The more things change, the more they stay the same I guess.


2 thoughts on “Music History”

  1. Thanks for the mention 🙂 Couldn’t have played the Bolling piece without you. That was my favorite part of the recital.


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