After writing this column for issue #22, which pondered why any of us get into designing or building audio gear, I encountered a piece by Michael Lavorgna on AudioStream that gave me pause. That’s not a first: Michael is kinder, gentler, and more contemplative than me, and his ideas often force me to examine things that I’ve taken for granted.
Michael wrote about why actually producing music is important to those who obsess over REproducing music: “There are at least two relevant aspects to having and playing an instrument regardless of how well you play it; you gain a greater appreciation for and understanding of other people who play, and your ears will become fine-tuned to the real.”
Music has always been an important part of my life, but I never possessed the discipline to practice diligently, or to pursue lifelong instruction (unlike my old classmates Dave Soldier, Shawn Colvin, Susan Shiplett Ashbaker, and Randall Black, all of whom are respected professional musicians). My lazy-man, tangential relationship to music is rooted in singing Rogers & Hammerstein with my mother and sisters, gathered around the piano. Brother Chuck’s high school band, the Dimensions, inspired me—just not enough to work hard at piano lessons (hey, my teacher had an octave-and-a-half reach—how could I keep up?).
As the years went on, I sang in school choruses and plays (our high school production of My Fair Lady featured operatic singers Randall Black and Susan Shiplett Ashbaker, with multiple Grammy winner Shawn Colvin as Eliza Doolittle, for goodness’ sake). I could always project, and had a wide range; control was another matter.
Brother Chuck’s connections to record stores allowed exposure to all manner of music, all the way from Edgard Varese (“The present-day composer refuses to die!”) and Harry Partch to The Move and Dan Hicks. In late adulthood, I was recruited to sing bass in a Florida church choir. Florida being Florida, at 48, I was the youngest member of the group. Kvetching about my aches and pains during one rehearsal, I was taken to task by a 90-year-old bass: “You’re just a KID!” Yikes.
As always, I digress.
Michael’s piece hit me just as I’ve been thinking that I need to get back into singing, either in a choral group or a choir. Maybe even get some real lessons, and see if my erratic, thunderous voice can be tempered. I can no longer hit the Harry Nilsson high notes (neither could poor Harry in his later years!), but there’s still something there, some power and presence.
Even weirder for one who never progressed beyond playing by ear: I’ve been feeling the urge to get a piano. Not a little electronic keyboard, which would be the sensible thing to pursue, but an honest-to-God, bulky, bear-to-move piano. A restored Steinway upright has caught my eye, but can you believe how cheap nice baby grands are on Craigslist??
As is the case with audio gear, once the rabbit hole is entered, it’s tough to stop tumbling ever downward.
Entering my seventh decade, I’m less concerned than ever with doing things that are sensible. As far as I can tell, there’s very little in the world that’s sensible. I might as well cut to the chase and do what I want to do, those things that have been postponed by parenthood and endless other responsibilities. If 2016 has taught us nothing else, it’s that nobody lives forever. I should just do what I want.
…preferably without Cartman’s get-up. ;->