Monday, October 01, 2007

Lairnin an' Such

I've lost track of the exact sequence of events that got me into playing music. My daughter was taking violin lessons for a short while several years ago--is that what prompted my father to send her back with a short-scaled mandolin, or was it the other way around? It is for sure what started my wife's sporadic interest in the fiddle, as she tried to show Junior some of the practice moves. Regardless, that neglected little mandolin (yeah, I think it showed up a good year before the fiddles) proved infectious, and to this day I have no idea why. I played a trumpet in high school, and it took as poorly as the kids' violin lessons did. Maybe it just took thirty-plus years to grow the proper mindset. (I should be great when I'm 80.)

I'm not an overbearing music parent (or husband), and aside from the little brown lute, the efforts come and go around me. Far from overbearing: if the girl's not interested, then I can't see the point of springing the funds that could otherwise help inch the family out from our crushing mountain of debt. Private music lessons don't come cheap. Learning through school is covered by your taxes though (there may be a libertarian anecdote in this one), and through those channels, the rented kid's fiddle has been replaced with a rented (full-size) trombone after a merciful two-year hiatus. The bias of school music programs toward wind instruments is a mystery to me, really. My current theory is that it's an insidious scheme by The Man to completely dissociate music from sex (the emasculating band uniforms I remember from high school would support this), in which case, my daughter's going to remain unmolested if she manages to drag that ridiculous trombone around until she goes to college. ('You know, I have a trumpet,' I tell her, 'it's a lot easier to take on the bus.' 'Daddy!')

Of course I had to try it when she brought it home, and I can't say whether it's with pleasure or disappointment that I observe my hatred of brass instruments holds. They seem like they should be my thing, all about the mouthfeel, but before you can start slobbering lasciviously into one of those, you have to learn to clamp your cheeks (your embrochure) vise-like to even get the first fraction of the available notes. (I think it also helps to have an appropriately shaped mouth.) That was a frustrating thing--you need some stern measure of discipline to even find most of the damn notes, never mind to play them well. Even though I've been clenching my jaw for about a year straight, I still could only come up with hissing farts on Junior's trombone. The visual/aural/tactile combination of a stringed instrument has, to my surprise, suited me much better.

The other frustrating thing with the old trumpet was just my basic laziness. I didn't want to learn it badly enough to actually learn it, and it didn't come nearly as effortlessly as the schoolwork. It's funny what you value. My wife has had no time for fiddling since she started taking classes this fall. She's busy relearning chemistry for the biomedical field, and this time around she's fascinated with it all. She's taking notes and studying hard, not to get through it, but because she's paying the cash and wants to learn what she's paying for. Also because it interests her. It's great to see her this excited. When you're learning because you want to, you can get a sort of positive reinforcement going. When you feel obligated, the knowledge can still get in there, but it's not treasured. In my case, this has been the difference between the tiny handful of good projects at my job and the innumberable shitty ones (that have been better spent blogging).

I've been an autodidactic menace on the mandolin for more than three years now, and, as I've been saying, cruising along a low-grade upward spiral of interest and accomplishment. Which isn't to say I don't suck--I'm atrocious--but I'm at the point where some pointed advice, advice about where to focus, some tools and tips, would be highly valued. I landed in music lessons by another odd sequence of family events. My wife ran into a mandolin player at a wedding and cornered the guy by the bathroom. (My wife's tactlessness makes up well for my shyness--we work great this way, except when we infuriate one another.) I may be terrible, but this guy is an ace--I really love his fusion thing. (And I'm sure he won't mind the plug.) At fifty bucks, I'd better value the lesson, but even one visit is pointing me in some of the directions I was too puzzled to find. I'll write about that soon, I think (this post is a boring introduction to that one that flowed over the wall), but it feels good to be gaining knowledge without pressure, for no other reason than because it satisifies me.

Keifus (with apologies to the usual gang of idiots)


twiffer said...

most schools, i think, only teach the instruments for a marching band. and have the band, cause they have a football team. exceptions of course: the school system my dad teaches in (glastonbury) has an orchestra. come to think of it, my home town had a school orchestra too, but only for the middle school.

anyway, it is a bit of a shame that too often the desire to learn something like how to play an instrument comes later in life. but it just means it's a bit more difficult, not impossible. on the plus side, you're old enough to realize that you have to practice, that even the most talented have to practice, and that nothing is learned overnight.

hey, at least your creative outlet is cheaper than mine. portable too. i've been going to a pottery class for about 3 years now, but in terms of actual days spent throwing, it's actually only about 5-6 months. even then, it's only 3 hours, once a week. craft is cumulative. you'll only get better with practice and repetition. if i want to throw outside of my once a week class, i have to pay for open studio time. and that's only available on sundays. without my own wheel, i get 6 hours a week, tops, at the studio (unless i go to another studio). no room for a wheel right now; need a house first. then about a grand. and should i want a kiln, i'd have to either build one, or drop 5 to 20 grand for one. not to mention materials costs. (yikes, now i'm scaring myself.) all in time.

you at least can practice whenever you want. you can take your mandolin with you when you travel. hell, you could take it hiking. that's cool. what's most important though is that you enjoy playing.

Keifus said...

Twiff, I could see you with a backyard kiln, although you may need to head further out to the country for that, maybe get some gray in your beard too if you plan to fit my stereotype. I've been impressed with your pottery photos.

( been up to Shenendoah national park yet? It's real nice driving west once you get past the sprawl. A fine place to set up a studio, I'd think.)

I took the mandolin when I went to Seattle (and as I sat around far too much at relatives' houses with no transportation, it turned out to be a good idea). I played it a little in the airport, but no one threw money in my case. Possibly because I was doing it quietly and away from the walkway. I was still a little disappointed.

twiffer said...

hey, if it makes you feel better, this guy only made 20 bucks playing on a corner in DC.

don't need to be to far out for a kiln. they sell some fairly compact ones. hell, the studio i work at is in adams morgan. i just need a garage.

rundeep said...

First, props to you and your wife for taking up instruments as adults. So few people do that, as if music were something magical that's only for kids. Nothing could be further from the truth -- I think adults learn faster, typically have better pitch, and have a much better understanding of what music can mean to them (ie, work is a bitch, I'd rather do this). Never apologize for it, it's the best thing you could have done.

Why brass and woodwinds? You've never tuned a classroom full of string instruments, have you? I have. The term caterwaul was, I swear, invented to describe what a bunch of 4th graders playing violin, viola and cello sound like in a class. (briefly taught strings to elementary school students. Went quickly to law school).

Think I'll do a music post too. Seems to be a theme building across blogs.

PS -- every guy I seriously dated but one was a trumpet player. Tremendous kissers and for me it's always about the kiss.

Keifus said...

"work is a bitch, I'd rather do this."

Damn straight. As I was trying to say above, one thing about learning as an adult is that you know what's important. I still associate genius with starting young though. It's almost as though you have to imprint on the stuff (on whatever stuff) to really transcend. But there are exceptions here too, yes?

I look forward to your music post, but don't feel you have to generate sound recordings of 4th graders or anything.

K (no data on trumpet players.)