Musically Inclined

One of my great regrets (that I'm determined to remedy one day in the future) is that, despite my great love of music, I've not yet learned how to play a musical instrument.

I do have vague memories of a couple of piano lessons with a teacher I absolutely hated. She was incredibly harsh and cruel with me and I found myself wishing I could die instead of having to go to those lessons.

Then there was my pathetic attempt during the summer between 5th and 6th grade to learn the flute, mainly because my friend Anna played the flute. Indeed, flute was the instrument that all the petite blond girls knew how to play, and I wanted to fit in.

Ultimately, just as my efforts to fit in failed miserably, which now I thank God for, I also failed at both flute and piano. Neither the flute nor that particular piano teacher inspired any sort of passion in me, so both were quickly abandoned. Alas, I never gave a recital while wearing a fancy dress, my parents anxiously wringing their hands and praying I didn't flub the whole thing. and there certainly were no medals from orchestra or band contests.

Clearly there are worse things than being in your mid-thirties and unable to read sheet music. But, in my inability to learn an instrument I am an anomaly in my family. My mother plays violin. My sister plays violin and my brother played cello. And my father? I'd say my father is one of the best jazz musicians living in the Midwest, if not the States as a whole. He plays multiple instruments and directs a major university jazz studies program.

I attended my dad's summer school class last Wednesday where he put on a concert for the students with two other local musicians. They played classic standards they all know, without rehearsal, without sheet music. It was, in essence a "jam session" where they went with the flow on the selected tunes, songs like Hoagy Carmichael's 1930's standard, "Georgia on My Mind" and Duke Ellington's 1942 classic, "C Jam Blues".

My dad told the class about the importance of being able to keep eye contact with and "read" the cues of your fellow musicians. They all know the basics of the tune but just improvise everything else, all by reading each other's body language.

It got me thinking about what an amazing skill it is to be able to do that. How many things do we each miss out on or not do as well as we could because we're unable to either improvise or read someone else's body language?

So, here's some footage (taken with my crappy digital camera) of my dad with his two colleagues, reading each other's cues and merrily jamming along. I can't count the number of times I've seen my dad perform. It's been a constant in my life since I was a small child. But I still get amazed every time I see him stand up from the piano and grab his trusty trombone.

Hope you enjoy:


Anonymous said…
That's very impressive, Liz, the number of musicians in your family. And particularly your dad having such a reputation. But I sympathise with your not making it with any instrument. I also had a few piano lessons and was so hopeless the teacher gave up in disgust! My mum plays the piano but somehow I never caught the ability from her. It must be a fantastic feeling to play an instrument well.
Felicity said…
LA, I think that you are musically inclined but your teacher was horrible and that has put off a lot of people. Getting to grips with music sometimes takes a lot of time and patience. I started to play when I was eight, the piano, I went on until I was 22, I also took up the flute, my daughter plays the flute, she did not enjoy the piano with her music teacher, anyway. That is something I will take up again, piano, clarinet and singing lessons. So don't give up. Don't say, I can't play the piano, say every day, I play the piano beautifully.
Mango Mama said…
Liz, What a treat--- thanks for sharing. With my job, I'm surrounded by incredible artists everyday and I'm often bummed that I don't dance or play an instrument, but I'm also reminded that my role as an appreciative audience member is invaluable to the artist.
Jen said…
What wonderful playing! Thanks so much for sharing this.
Anonymous said…
Los Angelista,
I’m very glad my childhood musical fantasies didn’t happen. I wanted to be Bootsy Collins. That is so wrong, on so many levels, lol!
Single White Daddy
Anonymous said…
Wow. I love that kind of jazz. It's so rare to see - so many people push the beat... Maybe it's just rare to see so much talent. Thank you for sharing your vid. It really made my night.

Maybe your talent for lyrical words is your unique translation of these gifts.
Miriam said…

Its never too late!
Miriam said…
I think certain instruments are harder than others.

Like clarinet & piano seems easiest.
Liz Dwyer said…
There are definitely a lot of musicians in my family! Lots of artistic inclinations, which was incredibly nice to grow up around. I also believe it's got to be a great feeling to play an instrument. I've been thinking about taking guitar lessons because I find strumming one to be so relaxing, but I need to find time for the lessons!

It does take lots of time and patience to be an effective music teacher. I don't think I lasted through even a dozen lessons with that particular piano teacher. I don't really remember -- I think I've blocked the whole nightmarish experience out of my mind! And I think it's particularly neat that you are able to play more than one instrument.

Mango Mama,
The appreciative audience member is indeed invaluable. My dad mentioned to the class (in another clip I have) how nice it is to be heard by audience that really knows how to encourage and respond solos by the individual players.

Glad to share it! I love technology and how I can record footage with my camera. It's amazing!

LOL!!! I am very glad your musical fantasies did not come to life. Very glad, indeed! Bootsy Collins... bwahahaha!

I like to think that my adoration of Depeche Mode is my translation! And I love that kind of jazz as well. My dad and the other two guys playing with him are really just top-notch and truly love and respect the music. I think it comes through in the way they play.
Liz Dwyer said…
Nope, it's not too late until I'm cold and in the ground! I wonder how difficult it is to learn guitar.
Anonymous said…
Your dad rocks!

I hope you take lessons soon.
Unknown said…
This was so heart warming, thanks for sharing this awesome tid-bit. It is such a blessing to be musically inclined, and your dad is so talented & cute too!

Just wondering if you wore your pumps yet, cuz it has been SO humid!
Sundry said…
Thanks so much for the video! Wonderful! I don't think I've ever seen anyone do that with a trombone. :)

Do you sing? I don't play anything, either, but I sing. A lot. They tell me this is an instrument. It makes me happy.

Hydra has a few guitars and plays. I pick one up occaisionally, hoping to find that I am an idiot savant. Alas, the savant part is missing. There are a lot of things I have patience for, but picking out chords doesn't seem to be one of them. Sigh.

I'll just bet you can sing. You should be out front of the family band, singing.
1969 said…
So cool. I love it. What a legacy of music and talent. You may not have the music gift but you are one heck of a writer. Your creative talents just manifested themselves in another area.

Thanks for sharing the video.
tnt5150 said…
I am so with you on this one. One of my many regrets is that I never stuck with an instrument and can't read music. After begging for a guitar I found that i hated lessons and decided that i would teach myself...what a joke! I am determined that my children will read music and stick with playing some My daughter will start baby music classes this fall at 5 months old, and my son who is 5 years old has been goin to MacPail Center for Music since he was 2. Music is a wonderful gift to children.
Jameil said…
giiiiirl. your daddy just made me yell w/that song when he got up with the trombone! fiyah! going to look up "C Jam Blues"! i was over here jammin! not to rub it in but i'm a bit amazed you don't play an instrument either. i need to brush up on my sheet music-reading. i played trumpet (5th-7th) grade and french horn (7th-12th).
Thank you for this heartfelt post. As another person who grew up in a musical family, I just want you to know that the main thing is the appreciation of quality music.

Because my dad played music and could write music, a lot of musicians came to my house to get my dad to write down their music. The ones I remember the most was John Lee Hooker and T. Bone Walker. T. Bone Walker could write music, but he liked to gamble with my dad.

I used to watch them play and try to reproduce it, when they would leave and go drink and gamble.

Occassionally, they would laugh at what I was playing and would come back into the house and teach me a few things.

I studied guitar but could never play Wes Montgomery, my favorite. I got depressed about it for a while until I learned that a lot of other guitarists couldn't play Wes well either. Eventually, I went to school and started my own business. But the love of music, especially the blues, that they inculcated in me makes me feel very grateful-- even if I still can't play Wes.
Liz Dwyer said…
He does rock! :) I want to take a writing class again in the fall so music might have to wait till January, but we'll see.

He's very talented and cute! No wonder he snagged my mom! ;) I have been DYING in the humidity. I wore three pairs of shoes today: flip flops, some skimmers and then my pink heels -- but they were only on for the car to my sister's house.

I love to sing but I have a terrible voice. In fact, I have such a terrible voice that my 12 year-old nephew told me last week that the song I was singing was supposed to sound dramatic, not scary. It was such an efficient smackdown that I could only laugh at his truthfulness.

Glad to share the video -- it seems to be making a buzzing noise at the 1:54 mark so I'm going to try to fix it. We'll see if I can. As for the writing, so much of my writing ability comes from both my mom and dad. They were always encouraging me to read and hone my writing skills.

Welcome to my blog! Great that you've got your kids already going with music. I want to start mine at a music conservatory this fall. It's too bad there's not as much music in schools as there was I was a kid. It doesn't seem like playing an instrument is as valued now as it used to be as a sign of a well-rounded education.

I can't tell you how many folks I've talked to and they are just shocked that I don't play an instrument. Look at you though! Trumpet and French horn!!! Multi-talented musically...why am I not surprised?

Appreciation of great music is so important. Without it, we get much of the crap that's popular these days. I can only imagine the stories you could tell about the things you overheard as your dad sat and gambled with T. Bone Walker. That's really amazing. Thanks for sharing.
liz thanks for sharing this post. I agree with the other comments, your writing talent def. has something to do with growing up in a household were there was a great appreciation for creativity and the arts.

It's never too late to pick up an instrument. Learning to play music or another language is a great way to keep your mind sharp. I'm broke so my first priority when I get some money is to take Italian lessons. I need to become fluent ASAP. Then I will take music lessons. Haven't picked up an instrument in over 20 years. So weird I used to play every single day from from 4th grade until I graduated from high school. Oh well, one thing all the music education did was give me an appreciation for all types of music.

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