How I got the Music in me
I don’t know why I acquired an affinity for music so soon in my life. I’m sure every little child likes to sing songs and bang things together. Still, though, I had a father who taught me his native country’s folk songs when I barely knew how to talk. I was tri-lingual before I was five! Unfortunately, the other two languages have mostly slip-slided away.
I shared my new-found musical offerings with the neighborhood. You’ve heard of singing in the shower? Perhaps you do so yourself. I sang while swinging on my swingset. At the top of my lungs. In three languages. The neighbors would come out and stand on their porches to hear. I was not embarrassed, I was sharing!
Then, I found other musical expression—a little bit in school, and a little bit in the religious institution we attended. There was not much money in the school system for “extras” like music and art, though.
My mother thought I ought to take piano lessons. I hated piano lessons. It seemed like such a chore; such work; and I didn’t like answering to other people regarding my music. Also, I detested performing in recitals and workshops. I have never been an “entertainer”. That’s not why I do it. Gone was the joyful spontaneity of singing on my swing (or swinging while I sing?). Instead there was the stiffness and fear of the “required” childhood recitals. It took me a long time to get over that, and learn to love music again my own way.
In my teenage years, two things happened. I went to choir camp in the summer! (Did you know there were such things?) And, I got old enough to be in Jr. High, or Middle School, or whatever you call it where you are—I was 13. They actually, finally, had a chorus in school! My life was changed forever because of the kindness and caring of the camp Music Director, and the school Music Teacher.
Mr. Whitney, at the camp, came all the way from a southern state to California every summer to teach us. We stayed on a beautiful ranch, had two rehearsals a day, did chores, swam, hiked, did crafts, rode horses if we wanted (I didn’t want), and had parties at night. I wanted to live there permanently! Mr. Whitney was delightfully silly, and managed to get to know each of us as individuals. He treated us with respect, even though we were young teenagers.
We rehearsed and performed serious classical music, and also some fun and modern things. We were good! He wrote two musical plays for us, one of which we took on tour all over the Southern states. I was 19 by the time that tour took place, and had gone to the camp every summer. I really wasn’t supposed to still be included at that age; the camp was for those 13-18, but there were several of us long-timers who were allowed to go. It speaks volumes to the caring and devotion we had for the group, that someone as old as 19 or 20 would want to tour with the younger ones in order to continue to experience this man and his music.
Ms. McTovey moved from the Jr. High to the High School the second year I was there. This lady was the most devoted to her students of any teacher I ever experienced. She was full of contradictions, but ever herself. Her husband was a very, very, wealthy attorney. They lived in a large mansion in an exclusive area. However their politics were extremely liberal, in fact, Ms. McT was a cousin to a presidential family (a president I’d actually have voted for if I’d been old enough). They were members of every art and opera guild in town, yet they spent their holidays serving food at homeless shelters.
When our large chorus AND our smaller chamber choir (I had passed the auditions and was a member, yay!) both were invited to the all-state choral festival, Ms. McT held extra rehearsals in her music room, which was at the very top of their three-story mansion. I had never seen such views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. Our public high school district included a large area of the city, encompassing her upper-class neighborhood, my adjacent middle-class one, and several what were considered “disadvantaged” areas. This woman flung her doors wide open to large, and sometimes scary, teenagers from all walks of life; races; religions; what have you. My mother thought she was very brave. I just thought she was very Ms. McT. We all loved her. She nurtured us. Hey, we won in both our categories at the festival!!!
In my last year of high school I was having “social and psychological difficulties”. Ms. McT told me to a) take her guitar class; it would calm me down; and b) come work for her in the music library in the afternoon. She would fix it so I could get credit for an elective instead of having to take another stupid class (my word, not hers). She was right on both counts. I loved the guitar, and actually learned to play it, not just strum chords. My library work let me do something I enjoyed, as well as learn responsibility, and feel needed.
I don’t want to seem melodramatic, but I don’t know how I would have “got through” my teenage years without music and my mentors, Mr. Whitney and Ms. McTovey. Music [you may substitute “art”, “crafts”, “dance”, “sport”, “chess club”, or whatever applies to you] truly (saves?) changes lives.