I come from a very musical family – at least on my mother’s side. My father couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, and only sang two songs that I can remember. “How Dry I Am” and “Don’t Jump off of the Roof, Dad”. While teaching himself to program his first computer, an AIM 65 kit computer, he wrote a program to draw a grandfather clock and play the Westminster chimes, but had a terrible time getting the notes right until he realized that they were the same notes as in “How Dry I Am”, just in a different order.
In my maternal grandmother’s family, everyone learned to sing, play piano and perform at concert level on at least three instruments, with a serviceable knowledge of playing all other instruments. But it was all for family and friends, they wouldn’t be caught dead performing for the public. It wasn’t all for naught, though, as the truly wealthy one in the family donated the vast majority of his estate to ‘the furthering of the musical arts’, and performing artists still benefit from his donation.
My mother’s musical education was cut short by the death of her father, as Grandma never truly recovered from it. Grandma did continue to offer violin lessons to children, but that did not exactly encourage my mom to take up violin. She had perfect pitch, and those lessons drove her to hate stringed instruments.
Mom started my vocal lessons from birth. Instead of speaking to me, she sang, and I learned to sing back long before mastering speech. I understand now that I had a ‘disorder’ that causes vocal chords to become fully mature at a very young age. In Kindergarten, I was ‘discovered’ during a hearing test. We were supposed to say ‘hear’ whenever we heard a tone, but I sang the tone back to them. I was given a solo to sing at my first school concert, but noticing how the other children ostracized me for it, my school didn’t encourage any more solos until I went to Junior High.
But that didn’t mean that I quit singing! My sister played 12 string guitar, and she, my mom, and I used to sit on the end of our dock up in Michigan and sing for hours on end. We sometimes attracted audiences we really didn’t want. Once a boat of fishermen kept coming closer and closer, so we sang louder and louder to scare the fish and get them to go away. Finally we gave up in disgust, and they came closer. It was a group of priests that begged us to continue. Another time it was a yacht. (Yachts and large sailboats are common in our area, as our bay provides excellent protections during high winds and storms, and for when the mainland marina is full.) All I remember was that it was some old man asking us to sing for him. Mom later told me that it was Johnny Carson. And now I’ve dated myself!
Later in High School, I sang in competitions, amassed a collection of medals to rival our football team members, and was accepted into a statewide honor choir that toured Europe. My goal was to study music, and become an opera singer. In college, the fickle finger of fate struck, and I developed asthma and severe allergies. You can’t be an opera singer while sick most of the time, so I took the proverbial ‘map to the business department’, and my aspirations to become a professional singer ended.
I did direct a Medieval and Renaissance choir for several years, which was great fun. I accepted just about anyone, and gave them free voice lessons. We won some awards and had a great time, but it all ended when we moved to be closer to work. After that my singing was almost entirely lullabies for the kids. They grew up falling asleep to Italian and German arias, which worked well, sung about an octave lower than I originally performed them. These days my ‘public’ singing is relegated to my D&D bard. Our DM makes my spells and abilities work better when I actually sing.
Music in general, though, is central to my life. I always hear music – always – and have found that I can concentrate on other tasks better when music is actually playing. It sort of frees up some of my brain’s processing power to use on something besides creating music.
I had discovered, during an ill-fated attempt to learn to play keyboard, that even listening to as few as two notes, played on an electric organ for an extended period of time, created all kinds of fascinating sounds and emotions. I could easily spend hours playing with different chords, letting their vibrations fill my soul with feelings I’d never experienced before. Everyone else thought I was rather odd, and my keyboard skills instructor was not impressed. I probably should have transferred into the music therapy department after realizing that I would never achieve my dream of becoming an opera singer.
All of this is why music is so central to my writing. I concluded that music is the language of the soul, and that sound is… powerful, mesmerizing, therapeutic, and simply must be an extremely powerful force in our Universe.