Sunday, January 02, 2011

New Year's Resolution?

So I have this talent. No, not this talent. This talent tends to annoy people who lean a certain direction politically and can't understand why we aren't falling that direction right along with them. No, this is in reference to my other talent, which only annoys people who don't want to believe that anything their favorite pop or rock star is performing was already written two hundred years ago by some dead composer.

Most of my family possess this talent to one degree or another. We were blessed with two hugely talented parents, both of whom are (or were... it's awfully hard to write this stuff when one of them is living and the other one is, oh, terra-challenged) dedicated to the craft. I certainly won't deny that most of what I know is what they taught me over the years, while the rest is attributed to whatever I could glean from working with various conductors beginning in high school.

Indeed, part of the reason I'm a fairly decent sight-reader today has more to do with Dad than perhaps anyone else. Dad was a tremendous fan of the march. He'd served in both the Army and Air Force and was in the band both times. He had a dance band at one point (in a rare glimpse of his past, he even admitted to once having owned a zoot suit, of all things!), and was constantly seen with his pad working on some composition or other. The problem was that his piano skills were not quite in keeping with the rest of his talent (although his favorite calling - ever - was Primary Pianist). Hence he would drag Mom out of whatever project she was working and make her play through his score.

Now, Mom is an incredible accompanist. She was the ward organist from my earliest memory until many years after I moved away and started my own family. She could play almost anything, but Dad stumped her. Frequently. Part of it was Dad's notation style. If you've ever cracked open a Schirmer edition of "Messiah" and seen that reproduction of Handel's original manuscript, Dad's tended to look a lot like that, only not as neat. He didn't write notes so much as hash marks that often weren't distinguishable from ledger lines. He gave new meaning to the term "accidentals." I personally struggled to determine whether I was looking at a sharp or a natural. Flats were easier, but looked like anemic h's.

The other part of our common struggle was Dad's compositional style. He tended toward an avant garde style that never quite resonated with me. He would have been a fabulous film composer, which was one of those not-so-secret dreams he had for his retiring years. But I am not and never was a film studio musician, and I struggled with Dad's choral stuff. However, by the time I graduated high school I could by golly read his music. And once you could read Dad's compositions, the rest wasn't all that difficult.

What I struggle with today is my own rather serious lack of musical knowledge. I go through this personal inventory of skills and knowledge every once in awhile, and music sits at the top of a very long list of things I should know more about than I do. I am the poster child for under-acheiving musicians.

Talent is a wonderful thing, but in a character like mine it has the effect of dampening my desire or need to do anything about it. Music as a lifestyle came naturally to me, but I am a lazy cuss and have never applied this talent toward any practical end.

I started two instruments and never finished either one of them. Singing was easier because I didn't have to coordinate my voice with anything my fingers were trying to do at the moment. Violins and pianos are like that; demanding mistresses that need you to pay attention to too many things all at once in order to keep them happy. The voice is a lower-maintenance relationship. Keep it healthy, treat it with respect and it will continue to perform for you. Oh, sure, it requires technique and following of rules, but it's all self-contained. Don't even have to worry about carrying it around in a case, or keeping it dusted and polished.

Which brings me to my resolution for this year. It's a relatively simple one, but one I've needed to make for a long time now. I need to learn more about this talent I have but for which my skill set is seriously lacking. I need to begin a course of study (probably informal... I still have a day job) that will enhance my theoretical knowledge of the music I love so much. Let's face it: music is my eternal calling. I may prefer teaching callings, but any given ward has relatively few people who can serve as choir directors. I can do the calling, but it would be nice to know what I'm doing.

Although, for people of a certain political persuasion, that never seems to stop them.