Monday, September 23, 2013

The Keys to Musicianship

I'm asked a lot if my musical talent spills over into other instruments.

And with a dose of regret, I've got to say, No.

It's not for a lack of trying, though.

My grandfather played violin in a String Band as part of the New Year's Day Mummer's Parade, a Philadelphia tradition. Or at least that's what I've been told.

Sadly, I never heard him play.

On the occasional birthday party celebration at my grandparents' house, "the fiddle" would occasionally make an appearance.

But he had 103 different reasons why he could never scratch out a tune: No rosin. No A string. Bow was bent. Horsehairs had dried out. Etc. Etc. Etc.

When he passed away in the mid-1980s, my grandmother decided "the fiddle" should come to me (despite having a cousin who played viola, as I recall).

But hey, it wasn't my decision to whom this musical treasure would go.

And I tried valiantly to learn how to play it. Had it restored. Found a teacher. Took lessons.

Was terrible.

I managed to get through "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and that was about it.

So, yes, I've played Mozart on a violin.

My teacher knew the story of how I came to own a violin. And after reaching a point where it was pretty fruitless for me to continue, she had a heart-to-heart about my hands.

My big, beefy hands.

The ones I discussed here.

She told me how unsuited they were to the tiny spaces on a violin. Suggested a better fit for me would be either the cello or the string bass.

Given the size of my hands, maybe one of those washtubs with a broomstick handle tied to it would have been best.

So my violin career was snuffed a'borning.

For years, I also struggled with the piano. Having honed skills on the organ, I found them totally nontransferrable to piano, for some reason.

I couldn't master the touch; I had trouble maintaining consistent intervals when running up or down the keys; and I needed something to do with my feet that involved more than just three pedals.

Over the years, I got passable at piano. Faked and fluffed my way through as needed. 

I carry around exactly one tune on piano that I can riff through at a party or whatever, when asked: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in E-flat.

Don't ask for it in another key.

I have always wanted to play something like "The Maple Leaf Rag" on piano.

But haven't climbed that particular Everest yet.

Recently, however, I've been challenging myself to get better at the piano. Our church had a baby grand donated (!), and in an effort to keep it from merely gathering dust, I'm forcing myself to play the thing.

I'm still baffled by a lot of the technique, but I'm at least able to capably lead some singing sitting behind the 88s.

And if all else fails, our congregation may find itself singing a rousing chorus of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

In E-flat.


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