I grew up playing the piano and eventually the clarinet. It’s what allowed me, a hyper-active child from you-know-where, to survive childhood. Mom told me that she and Dad bought me a small 2-octave organ with the color-coded keys and music when I was about 4 or so for Christmas. So I’d play and have fun and that was that. Then one day, Mom heard me playing something that wasn’t in the book. After I turned 5, our family had a new addition: an upright, Courrier piano. I started taking lessons with Mrs. Geiger who apparently let me get away with playing by ear a lot – until Mom asked her about that. She stopped playing things for me first after that time which allowed me to better learn to read music.
Lessons with her lasted about three years because we moved from Pennsylvania to Minnesota. Lessons there lasted 2-1/2 years because we moved back to Indiana. Lessons there lasted a couple of years before moving to a different city in Indiana. Each time we moved, the teachers pulled me back to where I was a year earlier because I was too young to have been where my Mom and I said I was. I never argued the point, but wonder how good I could have been.
To be honest, I never truly liked it until High School, but all those years growing up, I would hit the piano after school before homework or anything else. Mom told me once that she could always tell what kind of day I had based on what I would play first. If I started off with Rachmaninoff’s quadruple fortes, then she knew to keep her distance for a while. My piano was a healthy outlet that allowed me to vent my frustrations, pretend I was in a concert hall (an empty one, of course, because I hated ever knowing someone was listening to me!) or pretend I was in some far-away exciting and beautiful place in Europe.
On occasion, I’d play in recitals – every piano teacher makes you do that – like it or not! In 7th grade, I even played the piano during a school play – a melodrama. It was fun because I could choose the music I played as long as it fit the mood. Of course everyone was worried a few weeks before the show when I broke my arm (no more gymnastics for me!). Fortunately the doctor changed the cast a couple of weeks before so I could actually bend my elbow. Nothing better than breaking both bones in your arm when you’re the soundtrack!
In 5th grade, I started playing the clarinet. I played in bands – concert and marching – all the way through college. In high school, I was even drum major my senior year, a spot I earned after auditioning with Mozart’s Symphony #25.
Growing up I was in various ensembles – concert bands, marching bands, trios, clarinet choirs, it was all fun! I loved going to Solo and Ensemble contests, too. I was in a trio once with two flautists, was in a 14-16-piece clarinet choir, and performed a few clarinet solos. Nothing earth-shattering, but it was fun to compete, even if only against myself. It was fun being able to play different instruments, too – such as the E-flat clarinet, a higher pitch, smaller clarinet. I always felt cool walking in with two instruments. Weird, I know.
For piano, I took a piece by Chopin one year, but the fun piece was the following year: Variations on Ah, Vous Dirai-je Maman. The original melody (which you’ll recognize as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, or the alphabet song) is by Mozart but the variations were by Antonio Siloti. I played it at our high school revue as well and had a ball! Prelude in C-Sharp Minor by Rachmaninoff was always fun as well with all the quadruple Fs. Too bad my hands are a bit too small to consistently hit all those 4-note chords, but it sure was fun trying and most folks never noticed if I converted them to three-note chords anyway. Of course that means, I’d never be able to take on Liszt despite having the dream of playing Hungarian Rhapsody #2. One – my fingers can’t move that fast and Two – they’re too small to make those huge jumps, but boy would that be fun. I’m just not the piano virtuoso with huge hands that Liszt was! C’est la vie, I suppose!
In college (Indiana University Marching Hundred) it was nice to play because people bought their snacks at halftime AFTER we performed – a huge change from high school. I loved being in the Marching Hundred at IU. Our football team was good and so was our basketball team. In football, we beat Ohio State and Michigan – in the same season, but remember last night’s 52-49 loss against Ohio State and how they mentioned that the last time IU beat OSU was in 1988? Yeah. That is the season I’m referring to. I was there. Benefits to marching and pep bands though, you get into all the football and basketball games for free! Gotta love that when you love basketball and Bobby Knight!
At IU and since graduation, I’ve studied languages and have even lived in two other countries where another language needed to be spoken. I need yet another language for my current job. While my vocabulary isn’t always as extensive as I’d like, I don’t speak any with an American accent (except for a day or two after not having spoken them for a long while – or on purpose!). Heck – I even speak German with a French accent, of course, I learned it in France, but my professor was German, so figure that one out. My mom swears that my accents are good thanks to my ear in music. When in other countries, no one can ever guess where I’m from. In Bulgaria, they thought I was from Turnovo until I came up with some funky syntax at which point they guessed Russian, then Polish, then German and then finally, English, but only with an attitude of disbelief. That I was American never occurred to them. That’s all because of music.
I haven’t touched my clarinet since the last time I went to Homecoming at IU which was 1996. I also haven’t played my piano since spring of 2011 when a coworker came and picked it up so his kids could play it. It was desperately out of tune, but at least it’ll be played since there’s no room for it in my tiny, 500 square foot apartment! I actually cried when he and his friends drove away with my piano in their trailer.
I still fidget – and have to at least be doing something with my hands. So. I knit. I’ve been working on a book for a while that would be comprised of original knitting designs. I think that now that music is playing a more prominent role in my life these days, I may make musically-themed designs. I’m already planning to revise my “Eine Cowl’a Nachtmusik” design, so why not add to it? Maybe I can talk some musicians into modeling some of them once their all knit up. A pair of fingerless, opera gloves? Or a lace shawl with a musical theme? A blanket filled with squares – each with a different musical symbol? A nice linen-stitch scarf conveniently called the “Maestro” that maybe I can somehow get our music director, Jean-Marie Zeitouni to model? It would look great with a tux. Honest. Of course having not yet met him makes the planning of that a bit more challenging, but I’m not going to give up. Plenty of time. Lots of knitting to do first!