Saturday, July 29, 2006

Musical Geniuses and Me

Okay, tell me if this happens to you. You are moving along perfectly well in life... being successful at work, having The World's Cutest Babies (TM) and hanging out with good friends. Then, suddenly, you are reminded that you once had potential in something or other, but you wasted it because you were young and stupid. Not following? Let me give you an example... (you knew I would)...

Today, I traveled to Greensboro to see the final student concert of the Eastern Music Festival. This is a month-long camp for kids 13-21 (shoot me now, folks... I just referred to a 21-year-old as a kid. Oy vey!) where they study orchestral music (playing it) in intense workshops and performance settings. These kids are headed for conservatories world wide including Julliard and others of that ilk. Growing up in Greensboro, we always knew about EMF, but we never attended a concert. My dad always said he wanted to, but we never got around to it.

But I've gone the last three years because my first cousin once removed (that would be my cousin's daughter) is a violinist and has been selected to participate all three summers. (Incidentally, she calls me Aunt Elizabeth because it's easier than explaining the family tree to everyone she introduces me to. It's kind of cool being called "Aunt." I'll just refer to her as a cousin from here on out.) The past two years, I've only seen faculty concerts... one featuring Andre Watts and one featuring a very famous violinist who I absolutely cannot remember now. But this year, I went for the final student concert. And oh, my... it was excellent.

They performed Bernstein's West Side Story Symphonic Dances and they also did Pictures at an Exhibition. Even if you don't like classical music... you've heard these. And they were simply outstanding. My cousin earned an award for most improved. She's 17 and she was 13 when she arrived at her first EMF festival. THIRTEEN.

So this got me thinking about my own music career. I went to Kindermusik before I started school. I LOVED those classes. Then, at my mother's whim, I started piano at five. It was okay, but my teacher was crazy. Although I wanted to learn more and more, she continued to stifle me until she finally told my mother not to let me play Beethoven so that I wouldn't pick up any bad habits (i.e., it was too advanced for me). This is despite the fact that I was, at that moment, playing Fur Elise... and quite well, I might add. Rather than go back to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (not that I have anything against Mozart), I quit. I was seven.

Soon after that, a woman came into our third grade classroom to give us a music aptitude test. She was recruiting kids to take violin lessons through the public school system (a new program for us). I passed the test and was offered the chance to enroll in the enrichment class, which was to be offered once a week during the school day. I was so excited and begged my parents to let me do it. After all, one of my cousins was in high school in Charlotte, and she was playing violin in youth orchestras and was probably going to major in music in college... so it was in my blood.

In the fall, I started lessons and I was getting more and more confident. Then, at Christmas, my father was talking to said cousin and when I was about to play a duet with her, he made a crack about the level of difficulty. I think he intended to praise her, but inadvertently stung me with his words. I never told him about that, incidentally.

Anyway, that broke my spirit, and I gradually convinced myself I'd never be very good at violin. However, I remained hopeful and stuck with it for three years.

At the end of sixth grade, Miss Keller (our violin teacher) asked us who was interested in switching to viola or cello in the Junior High next year, as she wanted to start a string orchestra. Not only did I NOT raise my hand, but after class, I approached her and asked her NOT to ask me to switch, as I really liked the violin and wanted to focus on it.

Did she respect my wishes? Of course not. I was just a stupid ten-year-old, after all... so she called my mother and asked her to "talk to me" about switching to viola. She felt I was so good at reading music that I could adjust to the unusual clef (violas use the alto clef) and she also thought that since I was so tall and broad-shouldered, the viola would fit my body better. My mother was so excited because the viola has a deeper, richer sound which appealed to her. I suppose she didn't really want to hear me squeaking out notes on that E string anymore.

So, in seventh grade, I was holding yet another new instrument. I did well with it though, and found I did like the sound a bit more, but tired of the fact that all I ever played was harmony.... lots and lots of boring long notes. *yawn*

In eighth grade, at the behest of my private viola teacher (I had to supplement my school class because I had some catching up to do with all those violinists who had been studying for three years) I auditioned for the Greensboro Youth Orchestra. I had a horrible audition. The director even asked "You're playing WHAT?!" because I chose an easy-listening standard of the seventies rather than a classical piece. But I guess Ms. Linnell (said private teacher) pulled some strings, because not only was I invited to join, but I got 10th chair (out of 12). They really should have sat me behind the trombones.

So I did that for two years. The only thing I liked about it was the director. I had a mad crush on him. I never practiced... and I faked my way through every performance. I can't believe I wasn't kicked out. But that crush kept me coming to every freaking rehearsal... Sunday afternoons, week after week.

After ninth grade, I gave it up. I had bigger fish to fry. I wanted to learn to parle francais, and I also wanted to really get into theater... so I did. I took up singing for my musical focus and auditioned for lots of musicals. I got in a lot too...

When I was in college, I decided that boning up on piano would help me be a better singer and it would be fun. So over a summer break at home, I picked up some sheet music at Mom's house and started sight reading Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. For a first attempt, it wasn't half bad. But it was my mom's favorite song, and she came in to tell me how horrible I sounded. She had no idea how much that hurt my feelings, but I vowed to never play an instrument in front of people again.

So I give you this story because today, I looked at my cousin and realized how much music is probably seething down inside me that I just never allowed to surface through bad circumstance and boredom. This cousin I saw play today... her mom (my actual first cousin) is a pianist. I already mentioned the other cousin who played violin. Then their mother (my aunt) is a dramatic soprano and has sung roles like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and Miss Jones in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, not to mention countless operas.

I couldn't help but feel that I have gone through my entire life without really exploring what might be my strongest talent. The proof was there. I didn't try, yet it came quite naturally to me. Makes you wonder how things might have been different, doesn't it?

20 comments:

Chris said...

Negative reinforcement is a bitch.

Jessey said...

When I was 13 I cried and wept to my mother that I wanted to be a singer.
But noone ever took me seriously and I gave up on myself.
I remain the greatest singer at the playground...."Twinkle, Twinkle" is a fave.
My deadbeat brother, however, got his talent on bass guitar nurtured and paid for.
I'm slightly bitter.


And PS, I'm not one of those, "America's Got Talent" rejects....I really could have made a career of singing somehow if I really applied myself...I probably still could. But now, with two kids...it's harder.

jen said...

My only brush with musical greatness is that I once had a sort-of fling with a guy who was studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He's now a quite accomplished tenor opera singer and has performed with the English National Opera and on BBC radio.

Other than that, I've always wanted to take cello lessons. It's still on my post-graduation To Do List. Perhaps being a librarian will get trumped by a career in the orchestra. :op

Kathryn said...

I say take another whack at it. And when you are ready to perform in public, I hear they have good acoustics in the Cameron Village Library atrium ...

eaf said...

See, that's what irks me the most. I now would LOVE to play in an orchestra. I do still have my viola. Perhaps when you take cello lessons, we can find two newbie violinists and start a quartet. The Jennibeth Four. I like it.

eaf said...

Wow, Kathryn! You and I were posting comments at the same moment!

JINX

Kathryn said...

Jinx only works if we said the same thing ... so I'm still talkin'. And now Jenn, Dan and I have turned you into a child as well. Ahh, success.

Amy said...

I had always wanted to play piano, but we couldn't afford it. So then in 6th grade I joined band. I wanted to play the trumpet, but my dad said "girls don't have enough air for that" and made me play the flute, which my mom played when she was young. I hated it. Hate hate hated it. In 10th grade they rented me a piano, and I was in little county recitals where you had to take musical tests and play. I did good in those. Then I went to college and had a bitch of a piano teacher who seemed to think I should be better because I was 18, even though I'd only played for 4 years. And she kept yelling me that my hand position was going to make me sore, and I said well for four years it hasn't. So then I stopped.

But I think I could have been a kick-ass journalist. Had anybody ever told me that was an actual career.

Anonymous said...

If you have a dream, then pursue it. Don't look back again and think, "I wish I had..."

eaf said...

Kathryn: Jynx rules are different in blogging. I know, because I just made that up. And I doubt you can make me any more of a child than I already am.

Amy: With all the talk about those inspirational teachers out there, I completely believe that for every fantastic, nurturing teacher out there, there are 20 who are just okay, and 100 who suck ass, and then another 20 who not only suck ass, but crush dreams and break spirits. Apparently they are all piano teachers.

Anonymous: It's not a dream, really. It's just something to think about. I can't imagine that I'd enjoy playing in an orchestra any MORE than I enjoy librarianship. It's just that I would have a very different life. Deep, eh?

eaf said...

Hey! Like how I changed the spelling of the word "Jinx?" I love making up the rules.

jen said...

"The Jennibeth Four"... Now if that's not incentive to take cello lessons, I don't know what is!

Sophie said...

When I was 8 years old, I asked my parents to learn how to play drums. They said no. I was so mad. How could they say no to learning an instrument??? Now, I'm a parent. Now, I know why they said no :)

I did have a failed carreer as a flute player in the school band (poor Mr. Ned). I sucked at it, but man, did I think I was the shit!! Heck, I even had my own BAND STAND, how geeky was that?

Chris said...

I come from a family of musicians and actors, so I took my rebellion against music seriously at a young age. I still do, to a certain extent. I would love if my kids do it, but it's so not for me.

Jason said...

Well, you guys know how I wasted my musical ability as well. I'll buy the drinks for the first round.

eaf said...

Insightful comments on American Idol is NOT a waste. Well, okay... maybe it is.

Jack and Diet for me, dude.

Amy said...

I had my own personal band stand too! Which I never used and had a crink in my neck for 4 years from putting my sheet music anywhere but that silly stand.

Jessey said...

Ah, just a bunch of musical prodigies, lamenting their misspent youth.

So sad. ;)

Jack said...

Ok you always ding me for not reading your blog...I did!

Make sure if your kids get the musical urges to let them do it! Both of my kids are real talented in music, but the older only wants to play bass in a rock band (sound familiar??). The younger is 3 years into piano..and also plays guitar, trombone and saxophone. Its amazing to see what they can do when you expose them to it.

Brant said...

guitar? yes
bass? yes
drums? occasionally

Singing? no way in hell

I know my limitations.