Thursday 17 November 2011

Mostly Mozart

I took up clarinet playing about twenty years ago.  Weeza had had lessons, but hadn't greatly taken to it, and had given up after a couple of years.  The clarinet was my grandfather's - he loved playing woodwind and my mother always said that, when she was a girl, she played the piano, he the oboe (at that time) and they used to have friends round for music sessions in the evenings.  It was an odd thing, the things she spoke of with fond memories were very much in the past, there was no question of them being done in our family.  She had completely turned her back on her girlhood, even the good parts, when she married.  Maybe she thought those pleasures were unsophisticated - country walks, cycling, playing music with friends - and wouldn't suit the relatively upper-crust family she had married into.

Anyway, she did continue to play the piano, but preferred not to be heard.  It took me years to take on board that making music was something I could do with other people, or at least in front of them, and it was only when I found myself offering to play the organ in church (my sister calls it mouth overtaking brain) that I had to overcome my nerves about it.

When Ro was at the village school, one of the other mums, who was a music teacher, set up a Saturday morning music club, with lessons given in several instruments by three or four instructors.  Ro was five or six at the time and started with recorder and piano, later dropping them both to play the alto saxophone.  I rather hankered after trying a new instrument, having long realised that I would never play the piano again as well as I did in my teens (which wasn't all that well, in all truth) and that the organ was far too difficult for me to play well at all.  Hammering out a few tunes is fine, but it's fairly complex, playing with both hands and feet, and I found that I could only manage three limbs, maximum.  If I was using my feet, I forgot my left hand and when I had a difficult bit of melody, my feet had to stay still or I lost my way completely.  And I didn't enjoy it anyway (still don't, I'm dutiful though).

So, I had a clarinet, I could get sound out of it (which is more than I can from a flute, most of the time) and reading one note of music at a time would be a doddle after the organ.  So I asked Cheryl if she could teach me.  Her instruments were oboe, bassoon and piano, but she reckoned that she would be able to help, as long as I accepted her limitations and was reasonably self-reliant - which was fine, of course.

I loved it and worked hard, and made quick progress, although I was never going to be a really good player.  Still, I was good enough to enjoy what I was doing and make the effort worth my while.  I also played Ro's sax, which I enjoyed and found much easier than the clarinet, the only problem being the weight of the instrument hanging from my neck.  Cheryl wanted me to take exams.  "You could go straight in to Grade 5, you're way better than that, all you have to do is master all the scales."  I reminded her that I'd told her right from the start that I was never going to take another music exam.  I loathed them as a child and they seemed to dominate my piano playing, stopping me from real enjoyment of the instrument.

I'll digress a moment here, in case you're wondering why, in that case, I didn't give up the piano in my teens.  I don't give up.  It's that simple.  If I really can't do something, then the time will come when, having given it my best shot, I'll bow out.  But if I can, and it's just a matter of tenacity, I'll hang on.

However, after several years, I was getting pretty busy, overstretched and over-stressed for various reasons.  Never mind all that, the point is that I wasn't working that hard on my music.  And Cheryl's marriage had broken up and she was moving house.  We agreed that she'd take a few weeks out for the move and then we'd start the lessons again.  But somehow, it wasn't quite agreed who would phone whom, and the whole thing petered out because neither of us made the call.  She's still got the piano parts of most of my music, unless she's had a turn-out and chucked them out by now.  And, I realise, one has to have an end purpose or one will not continue to work hard at something.  So, if I persevere with my playing, I should take lessons.  But then, I think I'd have to seriously consider (sorry if a split infinitive offends) joining some sort of music group, to give me an incentive.  But that seems quite frightening, and also time-consuming.  So, I dunno.  While I mull, I'm keeping up my daily practice.

I never did let it lapse entirely, there's an informal church service once a month where I play clarinet rather than the organ.  So at least I didn't forget all I'd learnt.


Ms Scarlet said...

I've played my sax for a village panto production [terrifying, just me and a very good pianist], but I used to love those play-a-long books where you can put on a backing CD and pretend to be really good!!
Bizarrely, I originally learnt the sax but have had a go on a clarinet and found the fingering easier than the alto... the thing I didn't like about the clarinet was that you have to hold it steady in the same position, but yes the weight of the sax is a pain. Mine is a Yamaha, intermediate and good quality so not as heavy as some of the beginner sax's.
You are right about incentive though... I used to practice daily for over an hour... but I barely look at the case these days... and I did know my major scales and could do the circle of fifths... seem to have forgotten what that's all about now!!


Z said...

I couldn't be bothered with scales, did all that for so many years on the piano. We used to have an end-of-term concert, where I felt no end of an idiot, me and a bunch of children, but I'm really not anywhere near ready to play with anyone else (other than a teacher) yet. I'm deeply doubtful I ever will be. Too nerve-wracking.

Ms Scarlet said...

Have you got the play-along books?
You can get them at, I think I'm thinking of the GuestSpot series, you can get them for individual instruments. Geltting a new one always gave me an incentive to play... I've got some ridiculous ones... such as play-along with Abba [actually one of the harder books], but my favourite, which is usually on my music stand is Classic Blues Playalong for Saxophone [you can get it for clarinet as well] and it features Fever, Cry Me A River, Hit the Road Jack, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free...
The series does cover a wide range of music.
And there is also the Jamey Aebersold series, which also has backing CDs.
Anyhow, I'd better get on and may even make time later to get my sax out!!

Tim said...

Right, that's a good chunk of the wind section sorted out. I know Rog plays guitar, because I saw one in his post the other day. And I'm happy to switch to bass. Any drummers out there?

Z said...

No I haven't, I'll order some. Thanks.

We have a plan, Tim. Maybe Roses as our musical director? She'd be good at that.

Roses said...

I've got a dulcimer, which has sat on my shelf for the last 2 years waiting for me to learn how to play.

I'll be musical director, tea lady or rent-a-groupie. Don't mind.

Unknown said...

I can clap quite loud,if you need an audience.

Z said...

A damsel with a dulcimer! Not to mention an audience - do you mind if I call you Alf*, after the sacred river, Mike?


Unknown said...

The only problem there is that 'Alf' had to run through caverns measureless to man, and I don't think I could run that far. Sorry.

Z said...

And then you get to the sea and the sun isn't even out. Hardly worth the effort, even in your thickest pants.

Tim said...

I do not understand any of these classical allusions. I can't believe Homer (or whoever it was) wrote about thick pants. More to the point, Mike, can you clap in time? If so, you're the percussionist.

Unknown said...

Hello Tim. It may interest you to know that in the late fifties I was just that in a skiffle group. Played the washboard, a tea chest double bass and whatever else we could knock up.

P.s. Only a village skiffle group, but it was fun.

Sheer Almshouse said...

I think that the beauty of life is that we can revisit things whenever we feel the time is right. Lovely story of your mother's youth and juxtaposing it with yours as it relates to music.

Now that you are free to share your music, you will find it bringing even more joy... lessons may indeed not be bad after all!

Z said...

Even Homer nods, once in a while, Tim. As long as it's in time with the music.

I do feel I should take the plunge, SA (lovely to see you again, welcome back), just teetering at present! Won't be until after Christmas anyway. I'll try to find an opportunity to speak to the music teacher at the high school and see if she can recommend anyone ... if I can pluck up the courage.

Unknown said...

Quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus.
I think that's right, but my latin is rather more shaky that my skiffling would be.

Z said...

Good old Horace. Probably, Mike. Chris could put us right.