I've been trying to find the time to write the next part of the Adult Beginner Journey Blog, but real life keeps interrupting lately. Which is, interestingly enough, exactly what is true of being an adult beginner. Learning, lessons, practicing....all those things have to be fit around the real life things, such as sickness, visiting relative...jobs. Deadlines. In my case lately, I've spent 2 weeks of the last 4 visiting with my newborn grandbaby. The other two have been owned by sickness...and now I'm doing a flying trip to Fl. for a 5 day weekend with some others of my grown kids/grandkids.
That's it then.... a slice of what it means to be an adult beginner....fitting violin in wherever possible. And learning to be patient when real life says, "Not this week!"
I'm taking my computer...thinking that perhaps some enforced time on the plane may allow me to think. Or perhaps not :).
See you all next week.
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In reflecting on the 'adult beginner' thing, I realize that in my case at least, it is the sort of thing that is fed and nourished by a mindset, and by example. While my parents were not educated people in the classical sense of the word, they both had an interest in the world, and a desire to embrace new things. I can remember living in Spain as a teenager in the early 70s, when my mom got a typewriter from somewhere, and we all began to learn to type, drilling on the home row. (Now is the time....) In those pre-computer/pre-keyboard days this was a skill that usually required training. Later, when we moved to Michigan, my parents both took advantage of the fact that the Air Force had an arrangment with the local university to come and teach College level course work, and both of them enrolled in a few classes. In fact, during that time, my mom decided to study for and take her GED, and dad did his High School completion. He graduated from the same High School I did, but a year behind me. :) When he retired from the military at age 40, after 21 years of being a jet-engine mechanic, he went to college and earned, of all things, a degree in nursing. Yes, nursing.... in fact, he is 70 now and still working.
All of this makes me aware of the fact that I was raised in an environment where the unspoken (and spoken, too!) pervasive message was that it was never too late to learn something new, that a hunger for knowledge is a good thing to feed, and that, 'of course you can do it!".
To music, then. After playing in the symphony as a clarinetist for a few years, I had baby number 3. During my pregnancy, they found another clarinetist among the university student body, and I was told, just after delivering my daughter that I no longer had a spot. This was devastating news to me...I don't think I realized how much rejection I felt in that until years later, when I realized I still couldn't bear to speak of it. So, I put my clarinet away, and having 3 young kids, poured myself into the home and family thing. I discovered that I was a creative....during those years, I learned to sew well enough to do it for money, learned to do basket weaving and quiltmaking...in fact, I taught both of those things in area enrichment classes. I cooked, baked, canned and dabbled in woodworking (I made the bedside table in my room from oak from a tree on our own property), and in general stayed busy. I was (am) a jack-of-all-trades sort of person. I learned to do most things well, but wasn't a super-star at any of it. However, I do think this 'dabbling in many things' fostered an attitude of 'can-do-it-ness'.
Musically though, I look back at those years as a sort of black hole. I think I was so scarred by what had occured what the symphony that I sort of closed it all away. I did sing in a community chorus, and continued to play the piano at times, but that was all for a few years. In fact, I shut the music so completely away that I made good friends during those years who didn't have any clue that I was a musician at all.
There were some tough years in those middle years, including some losses and a breakdown. I mention it only because as it turns out, music in my life was an integral part of my recovery. I'll just say that part of the 'walking through the valley' thing for me was a struggle with what I was made to do, and for me, a huge part of it was finally giving myself permission to grasp hold of that word 'musician' and hold it to myself. It was something I had to own, and it wasn't dependent on others. There was a sense in which I had so totally lost myself at that time, that I didn't even experience emotions anymore...and I had buried too many parts of myself in order to get along, or fit in. The music part of that turned out to be huge, though I didn't know how much so at the time. It was an integral part of what was a profoundly spiritual struggle... A God thing. And much of my recovery had to do with music...initially, listening to it robotically by the hour, then playing the piano and singing. It became like air or food...
I had my youngest daughter when I was 32, about the time that I was beginning the long climb out of the pit. When she was born, my oldest was in High School, my second son in middle school, and my older daughter was 7. So I was very busy. Life was turning sunnier. When she was 4, I decided, for whatever reason I still don't know, that I wanted to play the violin. Now, at this time, the only time I'd even seen a violin had been the string players in the symphony (none of whom, at that time, would speak a word to a lowly wind player). I'd never held one in my hands...but I decided I wanted to play. I believe that God Himself put the desire in me to play, since what happened over the course of the next 10 years was so far into the realm of "you've got to be kidding me" that I never ever EVER could have even thought to dream it up.
So...I talked about wanting to play a violin for a while. I knew there was a woman at my church who played, though I'd never heard her. I asked her one day, if I could get an instrument, if she'd teach me, and she said yes. But, I didn't really know how to go about getting one, so for some time, I just talked about it. Finally, and unbeknownst to me, my beloved mom ordered me one from the JC PENNEYS catalog and gave it to me for Christmas!! Yup.... a Chinese instrument (actually, with more knowledge, I realize that we really lucked out it. It was pretty good for a $150 instrument!). I was 36 years old.
The next part is pretty funny, and I suppose speaks to the enthusiasm that I had for the 'learning violin' project. I happened to mention my new violin to a friend at church, and she told me that she had played as a child, and still had her violin under the bed...so I asked her, "want to take lessons with me?". And she said, Sure!. So we started...and we kept mentioning it to more and more friends, and by later that spring, we had a 'group lesson' of about 5-6 grown women taking lessons together. It became a social thing...we'd drink flavored coffee and plow through the Applebaum book together. It was a great and fun way to learn....I still remember cracking up over how one of my friends couldn't manage to slur at all...I finally had to hold her bow arm while she moved the finger. Looking back, I realize that all of my best friends at that time ultimately began playing with us. By the end of the year, we had one viola and about 4 violins. The following fall another friend took up cello and another did viola. For a time, there were at least 5 of us trekking into Canada and taking lessons at the Conservatory over there.
Music is social...and we were having a blast. I have tape recordings of the early months, when we would get together on our own and try to play together, in 2 or 3 part harmony. On one of the songs (I believe it was a hymn of some sort) we get to the end together, and mostly in tune, and I can hear us enthusiastically congratulating each other. At other tiimes, we're cracking up over how bad we sound. You can hear our early attempts at vibrato, and 4th fingers... It was just fun. I'm glad I have those tapes.
In time, most of the others fell away, though we did do a few years of chamber music camp together before that happened. I can say this....my initial hope was to eventually get good enough to be able to play basic hymns in church. That was as high as I even knew how to dream. I began lessons in January, and played in church by Easter of the first year...so, had to dream a little bigger :).
I though I'd be able to complete this in 2 installments, but looks like it'll be a bit more. However, we're now getting to the actual "adult beginner violinist" part of the journey. So sorry for the length...I've never actually attempted to put it all down before, and it's all so interwoven that without all the details, I can't make sense of the outcome. Who knew??:)
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I began this blog entry as a reply to a thread where Terez has asked to hear from adult beginners, in light of an article that she had read. I started writing, and realized eventually that my response would be longer than might be appropriate for the discussion threads, so I decided to copy/paste the beginning here, and finish the story in my 'own' space :). For any of you stalwart souls who've read the beginning in the thread, I'll try to make it obvious where the new part begins:).
OK, another adult beginner story.
My father was in the Air Force during my entire unmarried life, and we moved frequently, often every few months in the younger years. I once counted it up, and I think I went to more schools than I did grades of school. Because of this, there was a lot of alone time. I was always the new girl in town, or moving to a place where I knew no one.
My parents were raised, both of them, in unusual home situations. My mother's mother died when she was 7 and she and her siblings were farmed out to various relatives (poor relatives) who didn't want them. My mom had a job in the 'muck fields' of Ohio when she was just 9 years old, and worked the rest of her childhood, and dropped out of school in 9th grade. My father was raised by two deaf-mute parents. His siblings taught him to speak. Dad dropped out of school at age 18 and joined the Air Force.
Considering their backgrounds, looking back, I still find it remarkable how important books were in our home. From the earliest days, my parents made room in their extremely meager budget for the purchase of books for me...I had all the Dr. Suess books, and could read well before starting school. As years went on and we got older, one of the first things we did with each move, was find the local library. I remember going to the library every Saturday as a 9 yr. old living in Peru, Indiana, and having the librarian tell me that I was about finished with everything in the children's room, and would need to move into the 'big' room.
It was at this same home that my first exposure to music came about. We had moved to Indiana just after Christmas in 1967, when my dad returned from a year and a half assignment in Thailand. I was in 4th grade. One of the first things that I discovered in my new school was that the students there were all playing Flutophones, and had been doing so for a few months. I, of course, was clueless...had never had a music class before that that I remember.... and had never seen a flutophone. My teacher sent me home with an instrument and a book....I still remember running up the stairs in the new house to show my parents. I was so excited. I remember sitting on my bed, and tryiing to figure out the fingerings on my own.
The next day I showed my teacher what I had done, and she (Bless Her!) took the time to correct the way that I was reading the fingering chart. I took it home again, and the next thing I knew, I had caught up with my peers and could play anything I wanted.
(Thinking back on this all now, I'm struck again by what a huge difference was made in my life by the small actions of a couple of teachers along the way....)
At the end of the year, I was identified as a student who had musical aptitude, and was encouraged to join band in 5th grade. (Note: I never even saw a stringed instrument other than a bass until I was an adult. My circles were all band schools). I began clarinet, a plastic Bundy that my grandfather bought 'on time' for me, and became very good at it. I have a memory of moving to another house (new city, new school) in Indiana, and playing my clarinet on the front lawn of my new home as we moved in. I guess even then, it had become something that I identified myself with.
Sometime around here, I began asking for piano lessons, and was told that there was just no money for it. And this was true, I know. As I look back, and take my parent's backgrounds into account, I realize what an anomaly I was to them....neither of them had had any sort of music in their backgrounds whatsoever, and had no concept of music education for kids. I feel grateful that I was encouraged to the degree that I was....they really didn't know where this musician-person had come from, and no experience with it at any level. Having said all that, had my parents known the path my life was to take, I know they would have MADE the piano lessons happen.
As it went on, we moved to Spain for 4 years where we lived in a 2nd floor walk-up apt. There was to be no piano in this situation, though I asked with regularity. At that time, the military paid a certain housing stipend per month. Many families lived in the base housing, but my dad decided to save money by living in a little town a few miles from the base. This allowed him to save money from each housing stipend, which he put away. This represented a bit of a hardship for us kids, as we didn't initially speak the language, and had no phone, television or peers close by. We used to beg to be moved onto base housing to live closer to our friends, but dad persisted, feeling that it was a better decision for the family. This tended to drive me even more into books....we would take a trip to the base every payday (2x a month), and visit the library, where we would check out literally stacks of books. My mom was a voracious reader like me, and my sister began the same habits as well. WE would also visit the little comic book store, and once a month or so get quite a few new comics....Superman, Hulk, etc. :)
(I'm struck again, writing this, by my parent's commitment to reading, since at that time, neither of them even had a HS diploma).
When time came for us each to move back to the States, Dad rewarded us kids for the 'hardship' of living away from our peers. Each of us was to pick something that we would like to do/buy/have once we got back. I chose a piano and lessons. I was almost 16 at the time.
Our first posting after 4 years in Spain was in very rural far Northern Michigan (where I still live). Once again, my whole 'identity' in the new school was 'the girl who is really good on the clarinet'. Already, by this time, 'musician' was becoming my identifying characteristic, even though I was also a good student, fairly good athlete, and not too hard on the eyes. :) (time...sigh)
My parent s found an old upright piano, which we hauled into the basement area of our split level base-housing duplex. I think it was there out of consideration for the attached neighbor residence. Regardless, I flew along in my piano lessons, which were Saturday mornings. I would spend literally hours...indeed, most of the day....at the piano while there.
it was at this location that I realized that I could check out music from the library. Ours was small, but still did have a collection of classical music....thus, I became known as the girl who checked out the "Beethoven Symphonies" record collection....:)
As it turned out, I only took lessons for about 7 months, as I ended up being a statistic of sorts. I became pregnant, and married the father of my baby. (We are still married, 33 years later). I did complete HS, graduating a semester early, but most music was put on the shelf. My in-laws were 'music appreciators', and my mother-in-law could play almost anything by ear in the old gospel style of Baptist hymnody. I used to sit at her piano and teach myself to play.... eventually picking away at some of the Sonatinas and simplified Bach. About 4 years into our marriage my husband arranged to purchase me a new piano...it just happened that his uncle was a Baldwin dealer for a few years, so we got a pretty nice piano for a good price. It was still a major purchase for our young poor years, but I was delighted.
Over the course of years, I took piano lessons for a few periods of time...probably 2-3 stints of 3-6 months each. My kids can all still remember falling to sleep at night to the sound of the piano...I played a lot.
When I'd been out of HS for about 5 years, I was invited to attend a Symphony concert. I didn't even know we had a Symphony. Turns out it was a cross-national (US and Canada) community orchestra with professionals staffing major sections. This is a VERY rural area...to hear the orchestra, I drove 25 miles. Back when I was young, and we were very poor, had 1 car and 2 small kids, it seemed like a major trip, to drive to town and cross into Canada. Still, I was invited, and I went.
This is how naive I was....I remember listening to the orchestra, and saying to this friend that invited me, "I'll bet I could play with them". Now at the time, I don't think that anyone knew that I was a clarinetist, so she was a bit scornful about my claim. However, in the brashness of youth, I approached the conductor at intermission and asked if they needed another clarinet. (I was so Orchestra ignorant, so Band-trained that I didn't know that orchestras only use 2 clarinets). Surprisingly, he told me yes....and we set up an audition date less than a week later. I went home, pulled out the plastic Bundy and started playing for the first time in 5 years, almost biting a hole through my bottom lip in the process.
Well..I got in, was at the next rehearsal and played with the group for about 4 years.
(OK, this is proving to be long and detailed...as it must be, to make sense of the rest. Still I think I'll call this Installment 1, and finish in another Blog Entry later)
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