AT RANDOM: A reasonable ear

I got my first real six string...not that long ago, actually. A lot of music happened to me in the years before then.

I got my first real six string…not that long ago, actually. A lot of music happened to me in the years before then.

There was something of a musical curse in my family. Someone had told my mother when she was a child that she couldn’t “carry a tune across the room in a bucket,” and she believed it. She must have had some musical aptitude because she was an excellent dancer but she  never sang to my sister and me and not meaning to, led us to believe that we couldn’t sing or do anything musical either and that it wasn’t important.

The family lived on a farm, and the rural school did not have a music program beyond some group singing of black spirituals — the teacher was American. The radio, powered by precious batteries, was only turned on when it was really necessary, like when it was time for the news, weather or hockey.

The older kids taught us songs and we would sing on the school bus — Tammy’s in LoveRunning Bear Loved Little White Dove, and Hound Dog.

Our father sang to us on long trips on the bumpy roads in the old blue Chevy truck. His songs were from the war years — Smoke Gets in your Eyes, I’ll Never Smile Again, As Time Goes By.

When I went to a town school in my teens, I knew I couldn’t sing, so I didn’t. The teacher told me I was tone deaf and said to just move my lips in singing. I always failed music class. That was the end of music for me. Except it wasn’t. I liked music. In time I got my own radio, LP albums, eight-tracks, cassettes and CDs and went to performances when I could.

Music became almost a shameful secret for me, I didn’t feel I had the right to even listen to music because I wasn’t musical.

I managed to break the family musical curse for my daughter with music lessons applied early and often. She loved music and composed a musical drama which was performed in a youth music festival. She sings with her children and they in turn sing and love music.

Last year, I was thinking about a hobby I could do in retirement and prepare for now. I was willing to consider anything but the requirements were strict — it had to be something that would not need any costly or constantly renewed supplies; it would have to be something that I could do for a long time.

It came to music and to the guitar. I looked around for lessons and found an instructor on a local website. “He must really like to teach because he’s teaching when he’s retired, and he must be really patient because he has taught music to elementary school students for years,” I reasoned to myself, reasonably enough.

I decided to pay for a sample lesson before committing myself to a term of lessons. I told the instructor my story and he said that few people are truly tone deaf but that I had to decide for myself how much this meant to me.

That’s how I met Jim Miles and the Wentworth Music School. Dan at the  Wentworth Store helped me pick out a guitar, and later helped with ordering music books, never expressing any doubts at such an unlikely, antique student.

I named the guitar Giacco and we spend time together every day. Almost every day.

I think I must be for the teacher like finding a student who had been raised by particularly unmusical wolves who didn’t even bother to howl at the moon — a complete music innocent.

It was a whole new world for me, a new entrancing language. I am lento (that’s music talk for very slow), but luckily I had guessed right about Jim being patient. And, good teacher that he is, he always finds some little thing to praise so I feel OK about it all, even if it is only playing a short piece a little more smoothly one week or learning a new chord the next. He sets an example by continuing to learn himself.

The best thing was when he told me, “you have a reasonable ear for music.” While others might have found that insulting or discouraging, I was thrilled. Maybe the musical curse was finally  broken for me, too, or at least cracked.

Thank you, Jim, for giving me the gift of music. I hope you have enough patience to have me for a student next term.

Some friends thought it was a cool thing to try to learn a musical instrument at such an advanced age, a few have been disparaging. “At your age, you’ll never get good enough,” someone said. “I can get good enough to enjoy doing music for myself,” I said.

Still, I can’t help feeling envious of the pretty little girl who has a lesson before me at the studio and comes out jauntily with her guitar on her back. She’ll have the pleasure of music for her whole life.

—Cara Brady is a reporter for The Morning Star

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