The torrid affair between me and Music (part one)

A commentor asked why I don’t just give up violin and take up guitar. Cue long-winded response:

I love music and always have. Making it…? Not so much. I’m like someone who loves cakes, reads about cakes, talks about cakes, and reads online about cakes, even works in a bakery, but never bakes. In a word: pathetic. I am a music sink, not a music source.

There are a dozen talented musicians in my family, none of whom are related to me biolically. I have one relative who, if aliens from Planet Spectra handed her an instrument, would be playing a medly of Moody Blues songs within an hour. There are music instructors, concert-level musicians, and so much talent that you need hip waders. Me? I appreciate music. But I always wanted to make it.

In first grade, they taught us the “song flute” (an easier version of the recorder.) I still recall the way the vice principal slipped me five bucks to feign sickness the night of the recital.

I’m musically dyslexic. When I look at music notes, they turn into a sea of dots and lines. Every time I come to a new note, I need to count up the staff (“Every Good Boy Does Fine…”) and then translate that to “and that means you put this finger there.” I got really good at memorizing music, but still. Ick.

In 4th grade, my class was selected for string orchestra, and as they explained the instruments, I knew inside that I would die if I didn’t get a violin. I was jumping out of my seat with anxiety until the fateful moment they asked who would like a violin. My hand was the first up–and I got one! I was stunned that some kids chose other instruments willingly.

I liked taking violin, but I never gave it the time I should have. It seemed more important to play with my Breyer horses, make up stories, read, and draw.

I’ve been in and out of choirs since I was 12. I met my Patient Husband in college choir. I’m not a good singer, but I love singing. (No kidding–I was invited into church choir because “You’re a live body.”)

Christmas, 1999: I got a bug to learn guitar. I didn’t becuase I was pregnant, and who has the time?

Two months later, we went for a “routine” ultrasound and learned that the baby, Emily Rose, had a fatal birth defect. She would grow just fine until she was born, and then she would die.

I did what any mother in that position would do: I bought a guitar.


  1. Diinzumo

    My sympathies. I *hate* reading music. It’s always been a slow and laborious process for me, and something my music teachers and I always fought about (teachers wanted me to stop looking at the piano keys and start looking at the music). I cannot read bass notes. I don’t know why. And it’s ironic because with the flute, the high notes are the same as the bass clef, only the notes are “naked” with just the little lines on them.

  2. Jason Block

    Here’s an interesting thought. I was a band geek. Trombone…4th grade through JHS. I always wanted the trumpet or the clarinet. For me, those were the “hotter” instruments, but as I got older, I realized that I loved to hear and play music. I always wanted to be a synth player or drummer. I think Guitar Hero and Rock Band are cool games because they actually will encourage people to play the real instruments.

    Music is addicting. How can you not cry when you hear the 4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th? When you hear the first guitar riff from a Beatles or Prince song?

    My favorite line from Amadeus — (I may be paraphrasing) – “When I looked at the score…there were no scratch marks…no edits! It was in his head, and he wrote it down.” — Salieri.

  3. philangelus

    Well, either Guitar Hero will cause kids to want to learn to play real instruments, or it’ll shortcut the thing to death and they’ll lose interest. Kiddo#3 is now banging on a bucket while playing his toy guitar and driving me nuts with the noise, but hey, at least he loves music.

    I don’t cry when I hear Beethoven’s 9th, actually (and I heard it in concert) but my heart’s in my throat during Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony and the Requiem. That quote is real, but it’s misattributed. Mozart ran out of time when performing that particular sonata for violin & piano, so he just wrote down the violin part, handed it off to the voilinist, and played the piano part from memory.

  4. philangelus

    Diinzumo, if I had to read music that was just floating dots and lines, I would die on the spot. I’d get motion sick! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. bloodinside

    Hoh, ok, i understand your point of view
    BUT still that’s not what i wanted to heart, but that’s a kind of shadow you make for yourself.

    I play in a band, i’m a main composer, i can play with everybody – i go on with guitar, with vocals and so on, and i’m not good at any of those things i play on.
    I can’t read notes at all, i don’t know what they are for and i don’t really care, cause there’s no use for scraps of paper in music – just for me.
    You should stop searching for methods, you should start to play. And play your soul through this violin – and therefore compose.
    First it will be reweriting, you can play bach in your own vein and it will be rewritting for me, but then you’ll start to improvise and that would be something great.

    “Me? I appreciate music. But I always wanted to make it.”
    So go on and make your own!

  6. philangelus

    Composing?!? Yikes!

    I dunno. Isn’t that like saying someone loves to read books, so she should write her own novels? (Although come to think of it, I do.) Right now I think I need to get as grounded as I can in the basics before I go wandering off. Besides, maybe the whole thing is that my soul doesn’t actually sound so good after all.

    It sounds as if you have a confidence and are able to “feel through” the music to know where it belongs and how it all fits together, but I would guess that before you got to that point, you did a lot of “scut work” where you learned the simple mechanics of things, what sounds go well with what and why that is. I would need to know what other people did that sounds good, and why it sounds good, before I was able to go off and make some on my own. But hey, maybe someday. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. bloodinside

    Well, just to be serious – my musical education was never based on any schools and nothing like that, i don’t know any classical things, i just learned nothing. On the lessons of guitar, those private, i’ve learned to play the bass track of ‘nothing else matters’ and a song, but no theory, with other teacher i’ve learned a basic of one scale (a moll penthatonics or sth) and that’s all
    the rest is just the feeling

    The case of novels is a bit different for me… Cause to write a good novel you gotta
    a) read many, many, many novels
    b) write many many many sketches of everything
    etc. etc. etc.
    and with music you just gotta learn to play the chords (guitar) which is a job for a weekend if ya want – and than… just have a head for melodies. Simple as hell ๐Ÿ™‚

    Have you ever tried to hear the sound of your soul through music? If no – then well, better to know if it sounds good or not ๐Ÿ˜‰

    And i hope someday you’ll try to compose something on that great violin you’ve got ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Diinzumo

    I think there’s an art that calls to the individual–you may have a feel for writing novels or making visual art, but creating your own melodies/exploring your soul through music may elude you. Or you may be a great composer, but the thought of creating a story or picture is daunting to you. And that’s okay. The whole bottom line is the joy of creating, expressing or both.

    I play music “by ear” (and boy, does that ear get tired! #ba-dump-ching#), which makes reading music all the more odious (why bother if I can listen and repeat, right?). I can play along with the radio or CDs, which I do, especially at Christmas with all the traditional carols. But compose music? As a kid, I made some songs on the piano, but now I’ve had neither the inspiration nor the desire. It’s far easier to write.

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