Tuesday, April 18, 2006
MY MUSICAL JOURNEY
When I was a teenager music was my number one passion. In addition to singing in the high school choir, I sang in the Songsters (choir) and played in the band at my local church, or corps, as we say in The Salvation Army. I attended music camps in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for seven summers and spent three summers touring Pennsylvania with a gospel group. I also participated in a regional Salvation Army band (Pendel Brass) that met in Philadelphia, PA every other Saturday. Poor Dad! Every other Saturday he drove me 100 miles from Harrisburg to Philadelphia, hung around for six hours while we rehearsed, and then drove 100 miles back! And I never heard him complain! (I hope I'm as gracious with my children, but I doubt it.)
At one time, I aspired to be a concert pianist. Since my hands never grew large enough to span a tenth, however, that dream was shortlived. I've never spanned more than a ninth in either hand and I never will. Oh well, at least I can span an octave easily - that's enough to play a pretty wide range of music. Anyway, once I realized that a performance career was not in my future, I decided to major in music education.
As an undergraduate at Asbury College (in Wilmore, Kentucky), I focused on instrumental music education. I loved Salvation Army band music, so choosing instrumental rather than choral music seemed to be a no-brainer. I especially liked working with beginners (this may be hereditary - Jonathan works really well with young groups too). In addition to practicing the piano 4-6 hours every day, I played percussion in the concert band, Eb horn in the Salvation Army Student Fellowship band and hacked around as a keyboardist with a stage band. I had plenty of opportunities to travel around the USA with these groups. And as a student-teacher, I accompanied a group of high school band students on a spring break trip from Nicholasville, Kentucky to - of all places - Washington, DC and the eastern shore of Maryland! Is life funny or what?! At that time I had no idea that I would one day live in this area with my family.
As a graduate student at the University of Manitoba, I shifted my focus to choral music education. Winnipeg, Manitoba is blessed with a rich tradition in choral music. I think every second family in that city has Mennonite roots (the non-Mennonites are either Ukrainian or Cree Native Americans; a few English, French and other groups are sprinkled in there too). Let me tell you, Mennonites can raise the rafters with their singing. The city has superb amateur and professional choirs and the University of Manitoba has a good choral music program. Winnipeg is the place where I learned to love choral music.
I was the director of music at William & Catherine Booth College during this same period, so I got to teach a variety of music courses and ensembles. One of the perks of this position was that I traveled all across Canada with several student groups. I also did a fair bit of arranging and composing during this period. Sometimes I wrote for the groups I taught. Other times I wrote for class assignments. Inevitably, my students ended up performing my assignments. What can I say? They were handy guinea pigs. The entire student body even served as a pilot group for a survey I completed for one of my research courses!
When I undertook doctoral studies at the University of Iowa I stopped teaching music, had very few opportunities to play the piano and even fewer opportunities to write music. Consequently, my piano skills eroded pretty badly - a circumstance I still regret. Nevertheless, I studied and wrote about the relationship between jazz and American culture during this period and I encouraged my children to participate in musical groups in their schools. Since then, Jonathan has become a very good trumpet/cornet player and he is starting to compose and arrange some music. Joshua is becoming a good trombone player and he shows real promise as a composer.
My opportunities for musical expression have increased since I moved to Washington, DC. This has been a pleasant surprise. After my time in Iowa, I figured most of my musical endeavors were behind me. I don't play in bands anymore. I never was a particularly skillful brass player and there just isn't any point to hacking my way around a horn now. I play the piano for the Songsters at my corps and I play for the worship services at the local Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center. I also fill in as the pianist for Sunday services when the regular corps pianist is away. I've even resumed composing and arranging music. In fact, I've recently learned that one of my adolescent dreams will be fulfilled soon: one of my pieces will be published this year. I had given up on that dream long ago and pretty much had to be coerced into submitting anything for consideration (thanks Dave, Debbie and Dorothy G., for pushing me into it). I guess this shows that one should never give up on dreams. The road to their fulfillment may be full of twists and bumps, but it ultimately leads to the right destination.
That brings us to the current point on my journey. As you can see, the trip has been both aesthetic and geographic. Where will I go next? I haven't got a clue. I love to travel, though, so I'm just going to roll down the rag-top and keep on riding.