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Late Night: Music Hath Charms

One of the interesting things about becoming part of Greater West Blogistan, in the census district of Firedoglake, is that we get to know one another in a rather one-dimensional way. We all make assumptions about interests because after all, we’re all here.

There are parts of our lives that we feel comfortable revealing and parts that remain undiscussed because..well, they just don’t come up. Although I think a lot of you have some basic ideas about who I am and what I do (at least in the persona of Aunt Toby at Chez Siberia), there are parts of me that I haven’t discussed a lot.

Music is very important to me. I was one of those kids who was nailed to a piano bench at the age of five and worked my way through the exercise books until my parents allowed me to throw in the towel at the age of 13. I did the usual school choral music groups in school and college but always felt that I’d missed out because a) I really could not read music very well and b)playing piano is sort of a solitary deal. I always wanted to be in the high school band.

In any case, for reasons I’m not going to get into here, I decided at the age of 49 to take up the fiddle (actually what I wanted to take up was Uillean bag pipes but could find neither pipes nor a teacher near us, so I did the next best thing, I took up the fiddle instead). Now anyone who has actually taken violin lessons will be looking at that photo at the top and will be saying to themselves, “She’s got tape on the neck – she’s a beginner….”

Yep. I’m a beginner. I’ve been working at this on and off for 8 years and I’m still using the violin version of training wheels. It’s ok. I knew right from the get-go that with my hearing loss, hitting notes spot-on was going to be a challenge. I also knew that with the amount of arthritis I’ve got (which was not so bad when I started but is a whole lot worse now), the chances of my being able to play “Orange Blossom Special” at speed were non-existent. But both of those things have not stopped me from learning and playing, both with my teacher and with groups of other fiddlers.

One of the reasons I got into this was to play with other people. I was absolutely astonished to see when my kids were in school and in the school band that none of them got together to just…play. If they didn’t have music and music stands and someone to give them the ‘and a one..” they had no clue what to do. One of my big reliefs in taking lessons is that my teacher teaches the traditional way, by playing a phrase and having the students play it back, which really played (ha) into my one talent: I actually have a pretty good musical ear. As long as my hearing aid is functioning well, then I can pick things up.

Once I’ve played them a few times, I can remember them. I’m much faster at learning to play by ear than trying to read music. That helps me play with other people – as does having a basic group of tunes that every fiddler seems to know, no matter where they are from.

A couple of years ago, I came across an interesting piece of research that had been done at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, using folks over the age of 60, in terms of playing music. As an experiment, they took a group of people (they had put a little story in the local paper looking for interest), some of whom had never played an instrument in their lives, tested them on the basis of many things: memory, physical flexibility, personality profiles, and so on. They then gave them the opportunity to join a group and learn to play an instrument of their choice.

Some people came with whatever they could dig out of a family member’s closet; other people scrounged around or rented instruments. They met once a week and learned to play basic stuff (and we’re talking things at the level of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”).At the end of the year, the group was tested again and they found that on all measures, physical, medical, psychological, memory, almost every person, no matter what their age, had improved tremendously.

In large part it was because it gave people something to do, a place to go and a feeling of accomplishment but the members of the group, which became known as New Horizons Band, started to make arrangements to go to one anothers’ homes and practice, meet up for lunches and so on. They gave a concert at the end of the season. It was a huge success. People arranged their vacations and trips to Florida around being in the Rochester area to play and practice with their friends. This group is now a huge, world-wide organization. New Horizons

Music is great stuff. It’s uplifting, it’s fun, it gives you entre to many other activities which are fun and good for you, such as dancing. If you have ever thought, “Gee, I wish I could play xxx” or “Gee, I should take out my xxxx and dust it off” – do it. You’ll be amazed how much fun you can have.

I’ll leave you with a couple of things – the first features my teacher, Laurie Hart, who is playing a Swedish keyed fiddle called a nykelharpa, and a Swedish folk group called Vasen. It’s a little bit different – but the world is filled with wonderful music.

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Snarky housewife from Upstate New York. Into gardening, fiber arts, smallholder farming.