Monday, June 11, 2012

Reading Music

Reading Music

Music has always been a major part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of being sung to by my mom or various other members of the Vancouver Folk Song Society. Up until I was two, we lived in Vancouver and would have folkie folks over regularly. Lucky for me, they would take turns singing me to sleep. I went to my first Vancouver Folk Music Festival when I was two months old and I think I've only missed one since then.  Now I'm a volunteer.  
Vancouver Folk Music Festival
Vancouver Folk Music Festival
My Serenity Lantern at Folk Fest.

When I was a kid we lived in the suburbs, no longer in the hub of the folk community, the gatherings at our place became special occasions instead of the norm. Our house had a sliding door that separated the main living space from the bedrooms and main bathroom. During such parties, when I was supposed to be fast asleep in my bed, I would sneak up to the closed sliding door and curl up on the floor there so that I could listen to the music being played in the living room. If I heard someone coming, I'd madly dash down the hall and leap into bed, feigning sleep.  On occasion I'd fall asleep in the hall and be discovered by some unsuspecting adult on their way to the washroom.

I took cello lessons for a few years when I was very young. My cello was almost as big as I was. I still have my tiny child-sized cello, I call her Ma Petite Cherie. While I took cello lessons, my best friend Rachel took violin lessons. She kept up with the lessons while I did not. It seems my mom felt that I had a little problem with practicing regularly...
The great musicians at work.

I've always played and sung by ear. When I was six, my mom told my cello teacher that I couldn't read music and he didn't believe her.

"But she plays the songs perfectly!"
"She's playing by ear."
"No way!"
"Test her on it."

So that's what Tim did. He took the sheet music for one of the songs I'd learned and put the title of another on the top of the page. He put the music in front of me and told me to play the song. I played the song flawlessly - okay, that's a stretch, I was 6! But I played it through without any mistakes or major fumbles. The only problem? I played the song that was listed on the top of the page, not the music that was in front of me.

I've never been able to read music. Several people have attempted to teach me, and while I know the basic notes etc, when it comes to actually playing/singing by sight reading, I utterly fail. I liken it to dyslexia in that I can read music, but the notes get jumbled up and it takes a great deal of time and effort to translate the notes on the page to notes on the piano, and any proper sense of timing goes out the window. I think of the sheet music as more of a suggestion or outline to indicate what direction the notes should be going in.

The Yellow Cello, Cape Breton, NS
Rachel tried to teach me to read music a few years later. We'd sit at her piano for hours at a time, but the notes would all jumble together in my head and I'd just end up playing by ear. Despite her world of patience, even she gave up on me. The same thing happened with my elementary school music teacher and my high school choir instructor. I did eventually manage to painfully teach myself the basics of reading music, but my sight-read piano rendition of "Ode To Joy" was always poorly timed and rather painful to listen to.  I think I'll stick to playing by ear!

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