Most everyone classifies music to be an art form. I don’t know much about art, to the point that I wouldn’t know what to include under an Art menu item. I like music, so most of what I do know about art comes in the form of musical knowledge. I know just enough to create a Music menu item. Under this menu I explore topics in music as they occur to me. I do not define art or music. I’m not that smart. But I do attempt some characterizations of music.
My own introduction to music began in the womb, as it does for most other humans. For any curious readers here, I sketch below the arc of my life’s limited musical involvement. These are personal reminiscences of no known importance. I recommend skipping this, but since you are here, please do check the Music menu item above to see if other topics might interest.
The following details a life absent artistic creative achievements, but imbued with a deep feeling for music. Such an appreciation usually comes with, perhaps originates in, abilities to recognize melodies and rhythms and to sing tunes. In this regard, I consider myself a normal person.
As a young child, I was exposed to art basics; I got a toy plastic ukulele and a Jon Gnagy drawing kit as Yuletide gifts. I never learned to do anything with either, although I watched TV to see Jon Gnagy instruct in basic drawing technique and Arthur Godfrey play the ukulele. At least I could make noise with the ukulele. I was totally devoid of drawing talent and simply became too frustrated/disappointed to pursue it. Thus at an early age, I discovered there were things I could not do well, and that sound would have potential for me as an artistic medium.
I was told my mother left classical music playing on the radio when I was a baby. She particularly loved opera. This may have imprinted my brain to be attuned to things musical. Around 4th grade, my neighbor across the street introduced me to his older brother’s jazz records. Listening to jazz was a secretive pass-time in this neighborhood, as were many pass-times for young boys. But, as with Shakespeare and perhaps drawing, I was introduced too early in my development to make any positive connection; in fact, such early exposure can serve as a setback. Only in later life would I overcome my early incomprehension.
My mother owned some 78RPM records, mostly opera and Chopin and a little Beethoven as I recall, but also some big band recordings of Glenn Miller and the like. They were stashed on a shelf in the basement in my younger days. In perhaps 6th grade, we obtained a portable record player and I could begin to hear them.
My youth was unremarkable from a musical performance perspective. The family would sing popular songs of the time while taking car trips. I could carry a tune as well as the next kid, and I had a good memory. I began instrumental music in 4th grade and continued through college, playing various brass instruments and learning early to read music notation.
When I got to college and was deciding what to study, I thought naturally of music. I enrolled in the basic music theory sequence for music majors, but soon realized I was too far behind the other students. I had no keyboard skills, sight singing was considerably more difficult than I imagined it would be, and I was embarrassed by my wholly unappealing attempts at 4-part voice leading exercises. I sensed I would have to work too hard without guarantee of success, so I abandoned music study.
Owen earned the music degree that eluded me. It helps to have perfect pitch and to be able to visualize a score while listening to a musical composition for the first time. Once I came to understand what inborn musical talent consists of, I was glad my intuition steered me in a different direction all those years ago (although mathematics surely posed similar problems for me).
I admired and envied those who could play a musical instrument competently enough to perform in front of others. I thought it an attribute of an ideal life to have such a gift and be able to share it. The only two instruments I envisioned myself playing in such a life were piano and guitar (a better-sounding ukulele?). An earlier version of me might also have chosen cello, with thought to ensemble playing.
I bought my first guitar in the late ’60s at McCabe’s. I knew nothing about guitars and bought the cheapest one whose looks I liked, an Aria entry model mass-produced in Japan. I took some folk guitar lessons, and learned some songs. But being a shy guy and not caring for the sound of my own voice, I played rarely after that and gave the guitar to a family member.
My active music involvement ended after college graduation. For the next 40 years, I bought albums and listened to the radio. Music flowed over and around me, but I didn’t interact or perform. My musical life did not resume until after retirement. This seems like a good break point. The epilog will appear as Music Continuation Studies.