Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

The Power of Music at Your Fingertips

There are people in this world who are musically inclined, and there are those who are musically challenged. And then there are those of us who are musically inclined but have never progressed past the extreme amateur stage. πŸ™‚

Some talented individuals amaze me. They can play a bunch of instruments extremely well. The other thing that amazes me about most of these musicians is the ability to transpose to a different key on the fly or to just hear something and jump in with harmonies and start jamming. And then there are those of us who realized early on that our abilities have not progressed much past the noodling around for our own ears only.

My musical talents did not venture into this strange land of making it up as we go. I was a strictly play-by-the-sheet-music kind of girl. I never even knew there was such a thing as theory (beyond knowing music is built on scales) until I had to test into the music program at Crane School of Music. I didn’t even know the rules to building the different types of minor scales or the modes (Dorian? never heard of it!).

At Crane, written theory became my favorite subject. The connections of music and math worked for my brain and it all just made sense. (This is very similar to my connections with quilting – very mathematical when you break it down!) Aural theory though caused me nightmares.

Aural theory is sight singing but it goes much further. I remember in the entrance exam, the proctor said “I will begin on F#. You will write the melody down.” He then started playing a not so simple tune on the piano – with chords! And everyone around me bent their heads to their papers and started writing it down. That was when I knew I was way out of my league! Where would someone learn such a thing, and why would they want to?! Then came the interval recognition. The proctor began to play one note followed by another and we had to write down the interval between them. It was bad enough to think he wanted me to be able to recognize by ear a third, or a seventh, but when I realized he wanted to know if it was major, minor, diminished, augmented and so on, I was in trouble.

Somehow, I managed to get in to Crane. A miracle, if you ask me! And I filled my days with aural and written theory, performance classes, basic piano, composition, music history and improv. It was an eye-opening and stressful time for me. Eye-opening because I had no idea that a classically trained musician would need or want any of those skills, nor did I have a clue where they could have been lucky enough to stumble upon one of these classes in 99% of the high schools in the US. Stressful because I was surrounded by a lot of talented individuals and I was feeling like I had no business being there. Most of the classes required a performance of some sort and since sight-reading had always been one of my worst skills, I dreaded those classes the most.

When I was little, we took piano lessons. I remember very little as I think I have blocked it but I do have brief glimpses of a nun with a ruler and a lot of yelling with my parents over the amount of time I was supposed to practice. We moved a lot when I was little, but never in my travels did we land in a school that offered orchestra, only band. So I started clarinet in probably the 2nd or 3rd grade. I continued with it through 8th. The high school band and chorus weren’t considered “cool” in our high school, so I took private voice lessons and participated in drama club. College found me in required choral ensembles and class piano as well as private voice lessons and performance class. I had many opportunities to improve and instead chose to hide my voice as much as possible out of fear.

After college, it all stopped. The most musical thing I did was sing in the car and then that stopped too. I have posted about losing my voice in the past and trying to find it again. I have posted about letting myself be a beginner and just making a lot of noise – whether with voice, violin, piano, guitar, mandolin, ukulele or any of the other instruments I have felt drawn to over the last two decades.

I did take some violin/fiddle lessons from a wonderful teacher in my late thirties. (Hi Cynthia!) I was not great but I loved every minute of it. And my teacher has the patience of a saint. πŸ™‚ I had to quit because I got braces when I turned 40 and was worried about the cost. The braces have been off three years now and I haven’t picked up my beautiful instrument in many months. I am thinking that it is time to change that…

Lately, I have been listening to Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas. Their album Fire and Grace is a wonderful blend of cello and fiddle in traditional sets. Playing this on my drive around town doing errands yesterday got me itching to pull out the fiddle and not worry about scaring the cats and the neighbors. (For those of you who don’t know, mutes do not actually make them a whole lot quieter!)

I think maybe 44 is not too late to become proficient at a few of my favorite instruments. I will never be a professional due to lack of time, energy and talent! πŸ™‚ But I know if I give practicing the focus it needs, I could become proficient enough to actually play a few tunes and not worry about who hears me. Hmmm… I wonder where we could fit a cello…

What are your favorite instruments? Do you play? If not, what is holding you back?


  1. I love the cello (listening… as I am one of the musically challenged). πŸ˜€ Good luck!

    • Natalie Haas plays cello in the album I referred to — makes me want to learn how to play that beautiful instrument! Even if it is to just learn a few songs from that album and of course, Bach’s cello suites! That could take a lifetime!

  2. I used to play the piano, but haven’t owned one for years. I want to get one as soon as my house is finished so I can get back into it again! πŸ˜‰

    • The first Christmas we were married my husband bought me/us an electric piano. It has a wonderful acoustic-like piano sound and won me over from my need for a “real” piano. I had grown up in a house with a baby grand and never learned to play it beyond picking through some songs. (tsk tsk!) Now here I am in a house with a great electric instrument (smaller and no need for tuning!) and I have squandered the last 19 years and not learned any further. Time to remedy this! πŸ™‚

      • Absolutely! I love those electric pianos πŸ˜‰

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