Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Eight Musical Things about Me

I've been tagged by Thomas, Amy, and George to participate in the "Eight Things about Me" meme, and I thought I'd sort of copy Jasia (imitation being the most sincere form of flattery) and stick to one theme. My theme is musical instruments, ones I either mastered or attempted to learn.

1. Piano - I started lessons with some books my grandmother (I think) sent me when I was a girl in Alaska. The trouble was, we didn't have a piano at home to practice on. I would stay after school and use the school's piano. I quickly got bored, and never advanced learning beyond reading the treble clef (reinforced by the band instruments I later learned to play). Whenever I look at bass clef, it's like trying to read a foreign language or writing with my left hand: I can do it, but it takes too much concentration to be of any use. These days, I can pick out a tune with my right hand and accompany it with a few chords on my left (this also translates to playing the organ, of course). This is a skill I would like to someday improve.

2. Flutaphone - When we first got a music teacher for our Southeast Alaskan elementary school (someone who flew over from Ketchikan a few times a month), like most beginning band students, I learned to play the flutaphone. The fingering translates very nicely to a recorder, which has a much nicer sound to it than a flutaphone (sorry, Bill!).

3. Flute - I loved the idea of playing a flute; it has a nice, graceful sound to it, and being a girly-girl little girl, I of course, attempted to try it. Two problems: I got dizzy trying to make it create a sound, and my hands and fingers were too small to create the necessary fingerings (I still have the smallest hands of any adult that I know!).

4. Clarinet - so of course, the next instrument to try was the clarinet. I could reach the keys just fine and it was another natural segue from the flutaphone and recorder. I played clarinet in elementary school (5th - 7th grades) and then again in high school band (9th and 10th). I attended a small private school that did not have music classes in 8th grade.

5. Cornet - this was a huge switch for me. The cornet is nearly identical to the trumpet, but it has a shorter, more open bell and produces a mellower sound. This was my first introduction to the brass family, and it was done (where else?) in a Salvation Army band while I was in college. Not only did I practice on my own, I actually took trumpet lessons at Spokane Falls Community College to improve my technique on the cornet. Sometimes I would practice on the bugle at Camp Gifford (a trumpet-like instrument without valves; notes are created by a change in lip position, and so only certain tunes--like Reveille and Taps--can be played on it).

6. Flugelhorn - yes, Virginia, there really is an instrument by that name. Another British-style brass instrument, it looks like a cross between an alto horn and a cornet and is held in a horizontal position like the cornet. However, the flugelhorn has a larger bell AND a larger mouthpiece, the latter making it much easier to produce sound without so much tension in the embouchure (cheek and lip muscles). It also has a fourth valve for alternate fingering ease. I absolutely loved playing the flugelhorn because not only was it easier than the cornet (whose high notes I could never quite attain), but many times the music written for it was a soft counter-melody that gave me a little glory as a "soloist" without the anxiety of putting me directly in the spotlight. I played this instrument with The Salvation Army Western Territorial Band in the 1987 Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade, a very high honor. The Pasadena High School Band and The Salvation Army Band are the only bands that have a standing invitation from the Tournament of Roses Parade. All others are accepted by special invitation only.

7. Altohorn - After I learned flugelhorn, if there was an altohorn player absent during band practice or a performance, I would occasionally substitute for them. This instument, held vertically, looks like a small tuba and is just a little larger than a flugelhorn. The Salvation Army Bands are based upon the British brass bands where the fingerings for the instruments (with the exception of the trombone) are identical for all the notes. This allows for easy switching and substituting when running short on players.

8. Autoharp - Someone donated a couple of instruments to The Salvation Army church my parents were pastoring in Southeast Alaska when I was a girl. Using music where the chords were already written in, I would strum the strings with my right hand while pushing down on the marked chord keys with my left. Oh, yes, a concertina was also donated, but other than playing around with it, I couldn't really utilize it during actual congregational singing.

There you have it: eight things about me. If you're reading this, consider yourself tagged!
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