I have always enjoyed singing and playing music. When asked as a child what I'd like to do on the eve of my birthday (i.e., "the last thing to do as a 6-year-old") I'd almost invariably say I wanted to try to play Daddy's guitar. So he'd pull it out of the corner, dust it off and tune it up, and then we'd play and sing together a while. :-) While very young, I listened to tapes of hymns and choruses by the hour, easily committing them all to memory. I've found that music has a big influence on my thinking (and thus on my words and actions) so I try to be careful that what I listen to pleases the Lord and draws me closer to Him.
God miraculously gave us a good piano for free back in 1986 (an amazing story) and I immediately begged Mother to teach me all she knew about reading music. For my eighth birthday in July 1988, my parents gave me a paper saying I would be able to start taking piano lessons that week: the only condition was that I had to promise to never complain about practicing. I've always said that was the best birthday present I've ever received. :-D The next nine years of lessons were a wonderful experience. My teacher was perfect for me -- she never was so technical or strict that I became discouraged, yet she always challenged me to do my best. I practiced every chance I got, for hours on end; I always looked forward to recitals, and have ever been delighted to play for group singing. It was sad day indeed when my teacher had to admit I had passed her in ability and couldn't teach me further.
Though the piano will probably always remain my favorite instrument, I've enjoyed learning some on others along the way as well. The great thing about music is that knowledge is usually so easily transferrable from one instrument to another. My solid foundation in piano technique and music theory has made it easy to pick up the basics on other instruments (as they say, "jack of all instruments, master of none," LOL). Here's a rundown of some of my musical adventures:
- When I was 10 years old I started teaching myself how to play Mother's old accordian -- quite weighty challenge for a skinny little girl like me. ;-) I achieved a fair level of proficiency and played for several homeschool gatherings and music nights. I haven't played it much at all recently, largely because it has developed some leaks that haven't been repaired yet.
- In December of 1992 Susanna and I (with Grandpa and Grandma's assistance) invested in a violin: a nice older instrument. We already knew the basics of playing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and managed to squeak it out that first exciting evening. ;-) A couple years later we invested in another used violin and Susanna and I tried to play together. Our "violin experience" has been a slow and often painful uphill haul -- hours of misguided, ear-piercing practice, gleaning bits of conflicting advice from violinists (we interrogated every player we came across; they are very scarce in this area), and desperate longing for a local teacher.
It was indeed exciting when, in March 1997, Susanna and I were finally able to begin lessons with the music director at the local high school. $9.00 per half hour seemed extremely extravagant (we were used to paying only $3 for piano), but we consoled ourselves with the fact that he was willing to teach both of us at the same time. Our elation was short-lived, however...our teacher was clearly much more interested in guitar than in violin. His poor eyesight caused him to misread music (yet he refused to wear glasses), and he insisted that we use the Suzuki method so we had to buy thin, expensive books full of music we largely didn't want to spend a lot of time on (we were more interested in hymns). This miserably disappointing experience culminated in a humiliating recital in August -- Susanna and I were much older (not to mention taller) than all the other middle-school students participating. Thankfully we were allowed to accompany each other's solos on the piano, but we had been forbidden to use the pedal (don't ask me why -- but believe me, a Brahms Waltz does not sound good without pedaling!). We were also forced to follow the childish ritual of sounding a chord on the piano as a "reminder" for the violinist to bow to the audience. :-P Piano recitals had always been a delight to me, so it was a new experience to be literally shaking with fear as I stepped forward to play my solo.
We survived the night, but we never went back for more lessons...and from then on I became less interested in playing the violin. Susanna, on the other hand, has continued diligent in her practicing and is now quite accomplished.
- When I was about 14 or 15, an older friend of the family gave us a ukulele. After purchasing an instruction book, I quickly taught myself how to play all the basic chords. It's such a dinky little thing and honestly doesn't have the greatest tone, but I had great fun with it. :-D While living in the mobile home where we didn't have easy access to our piano in the wintertime, the ukulele came in handy for singing together in the evenings. This was excellent ear-training for me -- I learned how to sense what chords were needed and how they worked together in different keys. I've taught several of my siblings how to play the ukulele since: it's perfect for small hands. One of my young friends calls it a "little 'tar" and was thrilled when I taught him a simple chord. :-)
- Somewhere along the line, Aunt Karen gave us a recorder and a little instruction book. It's extremely easy, and Susanna and I immediately picked up on it: we played quite a few piano-recorder duets for a while. I still play it occasionally when we're jamming together. We also had a penny whistle for several years, but it has sadly been lost.
- We've had a variety of other instruments around through the years, though I've never really had time to play around with them much. Some are: flute, clarinet, guitar, nose flute, trombone, Jews (jaw) harp, organ, saw, mandolin, and concertina.
My latest musical adventure has been learning how to play the banjo. Susanna, Joseph, and I invested in a new Deering Goodtime openback banjo in January of 2003: we split the cost three ways, not knowing who would be most interested in pursuing it further, and it turns out that I ended up being the one. I was really surprised at how easily I was able to pick up on the basic chords. It is much easier than the guitar since the neck is narrower and the strings are easier to press down. I've found a wealth of helpful information and music online, free of charge -- such a blessing!
In December 2004 the Lord really blessed me by making it possible for me to purchase a Goldtone BG-250F banjo: a higher-quality instrument than the little Goodtime. I literally purchased it "on faith," as I bought it online without ever seeing or trying an instrument of that type/brand. But it has been all I was looking for and more, PTL -- and though it was used (thus costing me half the new price) it was in perfectly like-new condition. I can't thank the Lord enough for it! :-D
Oh, and yes, before you ask, I already know how you can tell if a banjo player is at the door. (They can't find the key, the knocking speeds up, and they don't know when to come in.) ;-)
The Paul Half Dozen, July 2003
Back, R-L: Lydia (14, mandolin), Abigail (23, banjo),
Joseph (17, guitar), Susanna (20, fiddle).
In front: Rachel (8, fiddle), and Daniel (11, ukulele).
Since Lydia was given a mandolin in May of 2003, the four of us (me on banjo, Susanna on fiddle, Joseph on guitar, and Lydia on mandolin) have been spending a lot of time playing music together. Rachel joins us with her little violin as she is able, and sometimes Daniel plays the ukulele or whistles along. It is such a priceless blessing to be able to praise the Lord together!! We refer to ourselves as "The Paul Half Dozen." :-)
Steve, Lydia, Susanna, Abigail, and Joseph
sharing music at the nursing home, July 12.
In December 2005, when Grandma was moved to a nursing home, the Lord worked it out for us to meet a local guitar/bass player and singer with a nursing home ministry. We were able to play with him for several months, and are now continuing on our own. We thank the Lord for this chance to share our music with more people -- we always are tremendously blessed and have made many special "older" friends.
I admittedly don't practice piano solos as much as I should any more, but Susanna and I play many duets. Having both taken lessons around 9 years, we're at very much the same ability level and enjoy tackling compositions by classical composers like Beethoven, Schubert, Debussy, Bizet, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Faure, and -- our favorite -- Dvorak. The piano-four-hands books from Dover Publications have proven to be excellent additions to our music collection. I am so grateful to the Lord that we can spend such enjoyable times together!
Some of the most special memories of my life are those of singing and playing music with fellow believers. Whether in a group of two or three, or with a multitude of 12,000, there is something about about praising the Lord together that gives a little glimpse of what heaven must be like. How I look forward to joining in that symphony of praise for eternity!
Meanwhile, I am indescribably grateful for the ability to praise Him here and now. I pray that I may honor Him alone with the talents He has given me.
(Last updated: August 2006)