Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

The Gift of a Musical Upbringing

When I was growing up, I was surrounded by music. Both my mom and dad sing. Back then, they were in church choir, a local Pops chorus, and my dad also sang barbershop – both in a chorus and a quartet. My sister and I both took piano lessons when we were little. We also both took up clarinet in grade school. In high school as I have mentioned, I started taking voice lessons. Someone was always playing or singing something in our house.

I consider this to be a blessing. What luck that I was raised to want to make music!

Sadly, I don’t think that is the case in a lot of households. Radio, stereo, iPod, sure – most people have something they play music on. But to have parents that encourage playing instruments or singing just because it enriches your life is something that I think is lacking for many kids today.

I think a lot of adults, too, have grown to live in a household that does not play instruments regardless of how they were brought up. How many times do you run into someone who says, oh, I used to play piano. Or I remember when we were in school and played in the band or orchestra. Always past tense.

I find that sad. Why do so many of us leave our music behind as we grow up? Is it because we never wanted to play a particular instrument anyway but were forced to as a child? I don’t buy that. I think even if a person were forced to take lessons when they didn’t want to there is some instrument that person would like to play.

My husband has told me that when he was young he would call his piano teacher and tell him they were going to be out of town so he wouldn’t come to their house at the scheduled lesson time. He, of course, would not tell his mom, so she would wonder what the heck happened to the teacher. 🙂 Now, though, he loves playing guitar and goofing around on the ukuleles, harmonicas, mandolins, fiddles and the piano that we have in the house. Maybe it was just the timing or the teacher that made him dig in his heels and not want to play back then.

I was the same way. I would find all sorts of reasons why I had to skip my lesson or not practice. Yet, when asked if I wanted to stop singing, I always said no. It’s like I wanted the reward without the work.

I think playing any instrument is like that – to do it well, it takes a lot of practice and work.

I had a voice teacher once who said anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until we have had time to learn and practice. I have tried to carry this with me to other areas of my life, not just with voice or musical instruments. If you want to understand calculus or chemistry or basket weaving, you understand that it will take hours of study and practice to get to a level of proficiency. Why then do we feel so frustrated when we try to play something and it is not perfect the first time?

I have found the same frustration as I have learned to write.

Why do we feel like that when our writing runs off the rails? When we can’t make the dialogue flow, or the plot holes are gaping at us? Do we throw in the towel in frustration? Walk away and give up? We have to allow ourselves as writers to make a huge mess of our novels before we can tighten up the plot, make the dialogue crisp and make our characters come to life. It is a process, a journey. It takes patience, and time, and lots and lots of practice.

This is one of many things my parents have taught me. Anything worth doing, music, writing, living, takes practice. And just like with our voice lessons, or piano lessons, we have to be willing to show up and do the work to reach a level of skill and ease.

My parents are still singing. Now Mom sings barbershop too. It makes me happy when I hear them and any time I hear a four-part acappella group, I remember my childhood. 🙂

I hope this has encouraged at least one person to go back to that instrument they left lying in the dust of their childhood. If not that instrument, consider a new one. Being an adult beginner with fiddle/violin was a wonderful lesson in how to make a lot of noise and not be embarrassed by it. I think we can all use a little more noise in our lives.


  1. What a great post. You are so right. However, my guitar will remain in its dust-laden case until my novel is finished.

    Why are there only 24 hours in the day?

    • Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.
      I know what you mean about the days being so short. it’s tough to balance my day job, working on self-publishing my 1st book, writing, and all my other passions -reading, music, quilting…. Not nearly enough hours in the day!

  2. I’m one of those “past tense” people. “USED” to play the flute. 🙂 My husband currently plays the drums though. My cats don’t like it, but he’s got some rhythm. Of course he always played with thrash metal bands…

    I agree with you though. Not enough households truly play music. My grandfather was also a drummer–in a Glenn Miller-esque big band. My parents never played instruments though. I think it’s a shame that so many schools are cutting music programs. And you’re post has reminded me of that old saying…it all begins at home.

    • Hi Katey –
      One of my violins is over 100 years old. It was my grandfather’s instrument. He couldn’t read music but one of his jobs was to play background music to silent movies! I always thought that was pretty cool. We had the violin refurbished as it had been in attics, through moves, and hung on walls for decades. It has a beautiful tone. 🙂 Now if I can just learn how to do it justice.

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