Music, in general, is something humans use to communicate feelings, emotions. I think of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and its lilting notes, andantes and adagios. I think of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald singing “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and their laughable treatment of differences in relationships using alternate pronunciations of common words, like potato, tomato, pajamas. You get my drift. Most music has a story behind it. Most musicians have a reason for playing.
I, at one point in my life, was an avid student of music, a trumpet player to be more precise. I started playing when I was 9 years old, on a cornet (the trumpet’s little sister) and worked my way from being the scraggly girl who didn’t know how to read music to being the lead drum major of the marching band by the time I was a senior in high school. Needless to say, this was not a transformation that took place over night or even in a couple years. I worked hard, pushed myself and practiced, practiced, practiced.
As a teenager, my band director suggested I take private lessons to better my skills. Although I wasn’t that terrible, I certainly needed the help. My mom and I contacted a local musician and set up an appointment. The day arrived when I was to go and try-out, as this person was very selective about students he took on. I remember my hands being clammy and being terribly nervous. I met him for the first time as he sat on a piano bench in a small music room at the local university. He asked me to play a song so I started playing my school’s fight song (which is really Anchors Away). I distinctly remember seeing this professional musician’s jaw drop, his eyes get big. I didn’t really know what to expect, but his praise of my ability was almost too much for me to take, especially after the relentless taunting I had experienced at the hands of other band members over the years. His words are still impressed upon my memory, “You’ve never had private lessons before?” My response, of course, was a big fat NO – I just practiced a lot. “Wow! For someone who’s never had lessons, you’re amazing.” I think this was the most praise I’d received in my whole life, even though I was a straight A student and a pretty easy kid to raise.
From this point on, I received lessons from this instructor who, over the years, became a surrogate father to me. I was raised by a single mother and didn’t have contact with my biological family since I was adopted in a close adoption at a young age. I had yearned for a father my whole life and here he was – this awesome, awe inspiring, super cool, philosophical musician. It was through him that I was able to come to terms with getting older. I learned so much about life in general from him, it really was amazing. For me, my lessons weren’t about playing, but about learning from this wise man, this sage if you will.
As time passed, my studies into the realm of jazz progressed. I was a talented player, but I was also a bit lazy and perhaps didn’t practice as much as a should have. I remember working on a particular song that I got down pretty well – “Dolphin Dance” as performed by Herbie Hancock. To the praise of my instructor, and probably to his surprise as well, apparently I had a knack for copying other player’s styles. I bought cds and listened to them and then emulated these digital teachers as I played their music. It was amazing. Music is really what kept me together when, as a teenager, it seemed as though everything else was falling apart, little by little.
It’s been years since I’ve played seriously, although I do still get my trumpet out of the closet and play some tunes. I’m still pretty good at it. The music I played has stayed with me through the years and is burned into my soul. Although it’s true that I no longer play regularly, I still consider myself a musician.