Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hobbies and family support 2: Elementary school Vocals

I have always sung, around the house, wherever I was.  There used to be an old cassette tape of me and my mom, I was probably in preschool, singing some Sound of Music songs.  When I was a little older, I can remember singing "Hard-Knock Life" from Annie while I was doing chores around the house.

In part 1, I mentioned that my mom's family focused more on STEM fields.   My own mother earned her undergraduate degree in accounting.  But somewhere in her college career, she made time for a few piano lessons.  She sang and played tambourine with the church choir.  I'm not sure whether she ever took formal voice lessons, I would think I'd have heard if she had.  Whatever musical talent I have, seems to come from this side of the family.


My father does sing.  He doesn't claim to be any good at it.  I'm not aware of him ever performing, even with a church choir.  His philosophy is to "Make a joyful noise," and that's good enough for him.

I can't remember a time when I didn't know how to read music, but if I had to guess, I would guess 4th grade.  I'll talk about that more in part 3.

When we moved to Nebraska, our elementary school had music classes on Tuesday and Thursday.  Up through 6th grade, the class consisted of singing songs from the book and preparing for the two concerts per year (Christmas and spring).  At home, the four of us would frequently sing songs around the house.  Sometimes we would sing our concert pieces, other times we'd sing random music: show tunes, songs from school, radio songs, church songs, anything. 


Every once in a while, Dad would pull out a little brown book of folk music, something he had bought from Mom about the time that they met.  Dad would read the lyrics and just start singing.  We'd all gather round, sometimes pulling out hymnals as well, and sing whatever came to mind.  I liked "Lemon Tree" and "One Tin Soldier" from the folk music set, and a bunch of other religious songs from the hymnals.

In junior high, about the time the boys' voices were changing, my music class transitioned to more academic study.  I think it started with listening to a music history / music appreciation course.  I particularly remember a barbershop quartet for "Tyler and Tippecanoe."  Years later, when I was a student at Purdue, I took the bus over to the Tippecanoe Mall.  Across the street from the mall, was the Tyler Too Plaza.  I just had to laugh.

When we were assigned reports on musical careers, I chose ethnomusicology.  It was frustrating, because I had no intention of having a career in music.  But I was/am interested in people and cultures.  If I could figure out how to relate anthropology to becoming an astronaut, I was interested in it.  So ethnomusicology seemed like the closest musical career I could get to my interests.

We made recordings of sounds we heard around our lives: toilets flushing, car sounds, various percussion.  Eventually we started musical theory: rhythms, scales, key signatures.

I missed singing, and I suppose I wasn't the only one.  Our teacher started a junior high choir, mostly (all?) girls.  The choir sang at Mass a few times, and at the winter and spring concerts.  I have a vivid memory of being told to pronounce "Excelsis" like "egg-shell-sees," and learning how "I" is a dipthong.  I recall singing "Matchmaker" from Fiddler on the Roof, and "Where is Love" from Oliver.