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My Adult Beginner Journey...Installment 1

March 2, 2009 at 12:58 AM

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 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 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 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 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)

From Tess Z
Posted on March 2, 2009 at 4:46 PM

Dottie, this is fun reading your life journey.  I'm looking forward to the next installment.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on March 2, 2009 at 4:46 PM

 Enjoyed reading this, as I did the other one (at the discussion forum). Looking forward to reading the next blog, too!

From Dottie Case
Posted on March 2, 2009 at 4:59 PM

OK, thanks.  I was beginning to think I had begun something that was more than it needed to be, and was toying with the idea of removing it. 

This is actually therapeutic is many mom died this past summer, and it's good to look back with some intensity at various things, and remember, and even mourn those things. 

And, I think it's good to sit down and look back at the path...  helps make the present location even more unlikely--  If nothing else, I've learned not to limit my hopes and dreams. :)

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on March 2, 2009 at 8:28 PM

Wow, I knew a bit of your story but not all! Congratulations! I know it's not easy to be the alien of the family...  But it's important to always remain true to yourself (the most possible in a given context I mean)    I'm really happy that you can now do what you like!  Not many adults who start as adults are able to become good ennough to teach well! It's a very nice story!


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on March 3, 2009 at 12:35 AM

Like Terez, I'd like to hear more from adult beginners.  My perspective is different -- I teach violin to kid and adult beginners.  Your story is fascinating.  I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it.

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