Thursday, April 28, 2011

Musings about Music

It seems like a day doesn't go by when I don't find myself contemplating music. Yesterday I put a post up about FolkThyme internet radio. I love having it playing while I write my blog posts, it reminds me how diverse and how meaningful folk music can be. But in this post I want to talk about my love for my autoharp, and about my history with it. When I was in grade school we had both a piano and an autoharp in the music room. This was back in the 70's and I lived in a nice suburb of upper middle class families.

I remember I had the opportunity to take the autoharp home and play it. I laid it out on the living room floor next to the piano, and pushed buttons and strummed away on it. I strummed and strummed with the pick until it leapt out of my fingers and right down the hole in the autoharp. From what I can remember I was pretty upset about this, tried to shake the pick loose, but it just didn't work. So I strummed and strummed some more with my fingernail until my little 9 year old fingers hands were sore from holding the buttons. As I recollect I only had it for the weekend. The other thing I remember was June Carter Cash playing the autoharp on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, holding it upright. When I asked my music teacher about playing that way at school, she told me that the correct way to play the autoharp was with it lying flat.

Remember when I said that I put it on the floor next the piano? Well, my first instrument was the piano, I think I was six when I first started taking lessons. It was fun at first, but later I was made to continue because I had to learn to commit to something. Some kind of life lesson my parents wanted me to know. I finally quit when I was about nine or ten. Then it was time to sign up for band, and I wanted to play the flute, but all little girls wanted to play flute so I was steared toward the clarinet. So for four years I played in band, but it was a small band and the Senior High band members were all also the schools marching band. This I did not want to do. But music was a part of me now, so I joined the choir.

Singing became my main musical outlet, and in my teens my sister and I each got guitars. I struggled with it with my soft girly fingertips. I loved my guitar for at least one whole summer, but I never took lessons, though my sister did. But I kept singing and my guitar collected dust, I wanted pretty long nails, which seemed more important to me. Later in college I flirted with the piano again as an elective class. I really liked it. A lot. But pianos are kind of big and expensive and hard to get up the stairs to an apartment. Then at some point I took up the twelve string guitar because I always loved the sound. I spent a good year with it, but only barely learned 3 songs though I practiced a lot. Again I didn't take lessons.

The next musical transition was trading my twelve string for a flute. Because, you see, I wanted the flute not the clarinet all those years before. This time I did take lessons. It was really fun, and I wonder where my flute music went to. The flute is in a closet somewhere. You would think that I would learn something by now, get a smattering of music theory or something. Well, I can read music for the most part, but there are all kinds of complexities out there that are way above my head. I've got some pennywhistles lying around here somewhere which I have an audio tape and book.

Finally the Autoharp comes back into my life. I saw my friend Becca Leathers playing one with her band Riverfolk. Now, it had been some time since I'd seen live music. It's funny how time passes when you are dealing with trying to be an adult. It was so wonderful, and they are so good, that I fell immediately in love with their music and enchanted with the idea of taking up the Autoharp. That was June of 2009, and I'm still playing my Autoharp. Thanks in part to taking some lessons so I'd learn how to play it properly.

And here I have to say that I feel spoiled, priviledged, and honored to have the opportunity to take lessons from Karen Mueller: 1986 International Autoharp Champion & 2006 Autoharp Hall of Fame. While living in Lawrence, Kansas, Karen took first place in the Kansas State Dulcimer Championships in 1984 and 1985, and was a finalist at the 1985 National Dulcimer Contest in Winfield. She lives here in the twin cities and teaches at Homestead Pickin' Parlor. She travels all over doing workshops as well. And she gave me a mountain dulcimer lesson on her instruments so I could try before I buy. As I said in a previous post, I have signed up for The Dulcimer School due to financial considerations. But I'll take lessons from her again, when I get stuck and need some extra help with either the Autoharp or the Mountain Dulcimer. I'm on my own with the Kantele, but for the book and what I can find on the internet.

A long post, but I just needed to work through the steps in my journey through instruments as I stand on the verge of taking up yet another one. And I forgot to mention the doumbek that I took up for a while. Still have one, they're too fun not to have at a music party.

No comments: