I love music though music has not always loved me. My non-musical mother pushed me to fulfill her dreams by performing in venues where her aspirations exceeded my talent and preparation. Not that I rebelled against practicing instruments she made me study…
I recall the recital at First Presbyterian in Rockville Indiana where my teacher and I were to perform an organ-piano duet. I played several lines before I noticed that the massive pipe organ was silent. I pressed the keys harder, pulled out stops. Oops! I hadn’t turned it on! After I flipped the switch all music was drowned out by screeching, wheezing air filling ancient pipes. My memory is blank after that but I don’t think I cried until I got home.
I joined high-school band, bless Mr. Humbert’s heart. Did his weekend position as choir director at my father’s church give him superhuman patience? I was happy to discover that trombonists were the fun people in band, and embraced the role. Perhaps I carried on the legacy of my great-grandfather Francis Marion McKinney, who led a brass band in the early 1900s.
Those above me in the band’s trombone section taught me how to enliven rehearsals:
- Turn the score upside down and play notes that way. It sounds different, quite different.
- Start at the last measure in the score and play BACKWARDS while everyone else plays forward.
- Play by ear and jump in on trumpet, sax, or clarinet solos.
I also sang in a gospel barbershop quartet that performed in small churches near Portland, Indiana. Karen May, Daryl Morrical, Greg Bowen (rest in peace), you all had better voices than I. There again, my mother…
I still love music, though, and miss the piano I left in Connecticut because making music is a good way to relax and de-stress.
“There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” — Albert Schweitzer
Of the many benefits of music which speak to you?
- Playing the piano exercises the heart as much as a brisk walk.
- There are lower mortality rates in those who attend cultural events, read books or periodicals, make music, or sing in a choir. (My great grandfather the band director was born in 1872 and lived to be 82, an old age for that era!)
- Adults with musical training remember 17% more verbal information that those without musical training.
- Eight-year-olds with just 8 weeks of musical training showed improvement in perceptual cognition compared with controls.
- Learning an instrument has an impact on children’s intellectual development, particularly spatial reasoning. A review of 15 studies found a ‘strong and reliable’ relationship, the author likening the differences to one inch in height or about 84 points on standardized school tests.
- Studies of students of ages 6-8 categorized as slow learners found that after music training the experimental group exhibited significantly higher reading scores, scoring in the 88th percentile versus the 72 percentile.
Next week I’ll release a video reading from Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, a book honored on Amazon’s Best Books in 2001, awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. It’s about terrorists who hold executives and political leaders hostage in a house for months. For me, it’s about the power of music, effected by an opera singer’s daily practices. Several friends enact scenes from the book. They are great! You must watch this video!
To make sure you catch it I have a special offer for everyone subscribed to my website. My neighbor, Nashville songwriter Stacy Widelitz, is on the board of directors of the Nashville Opera. I asked him to share his five favorite operas, and his favorite all-time opera recording. If you access Booktalklady from Facebook or Twitter, enter your email below to subscribe and get those recommendations. (Those already subscribed will receive automatically.)
PLUS I’ll reveal a bonus fun fact: what song in a famous movie did Stacy compose?