Growing up with music

July 21, 2020

In previous blogs I've mentioned bits and pieces about my life and relationship with music. Here are some moments I believe have had an influence on my musical career.

 

THE VOICE

 

There's a story mum always likes to bring up whenever she reminisces about my childhood - it's 1993 and mum is doing the weekly groceries with me, 2 years old, sitting happily in the trolley. All of a sudden, mum's concentration on whether to get smooth or crunchy peanut butter is shattered by the sound of the Beatles 'Yellow Submarine' being sung by what sounds like a small child. As mum looks away from the shelves, she realises it's me singing and not just the chorus. To her amazement, and that of other shoppers close by, I go on to sing the whole song, verses and all.

 

There's another example similar to this, 4 years later, where I'm playing one of the 3 wise men in the primary school nativity. The 3 of us 6-year-olds have to sing the classic hymn "We Three Kings" alone in front of all the proud mum's and dad's. My recollection of this is being terrified when I realise I am the only one singing. It seemed the other 2 wise men had suddenly gone mute. Mum says I carried the tune very well but then she would say that wouldn't she.

 

AFTER SCHOOL

 

If, like me, you had parents that finished work later than 3:20pm, then you probably went to the after school clubs. At my primary school, there was a french club, none of which helped me in secondary school; a chess club, which I cannot play to save my life; and the music club. Who here had recorder as their first instrument? Oh yes, the legendary plastic recorder. Mine was a horrible brown colour which, it turns out, my parents still have in a cupboard at home. I was so terrible playing recorder that the teacher would get really frustrated with my avant-garde style. I imagine she'd have found it hard to believe I would go on to become a competent clarinettist and saxophonist. Harder still that I'd have become a teacher.

 

For some reason, Dad thought 'well he can't play the recorder, maybe he'll do better at the clarinet'. You know what? He was right. Within a few months of getting the clarinet, I smashed through my grade 1 and joined the local orchestra. 2 years later, while playing clarinet in a jazz band, I had the opportunity to play in front of one of the greatest clarinettist of all time - Acker Bilk. After the performance, upon shaking my hand, his words to me were 'It's nice to see and hear another jazz clarinettist'. That moment had such an impact and fed my passion to be better.

 

Dad saw my enthusiasm for music and jazz was growing so the following christmas, I unwrapped a rather peculiar-shaped present to find a dented and well-loved tenor saxophone. It may have been 3rd if not 4th-hand but I loved that instrument instantly and began trying to learn Charlie Parker's 'Billie's Bounce' and 'Yardbird Suite', which proved to be very difficult but good fun. To this day I can't honestly say I can play them quite like the 'Bird'.

 

SURROUNDED BY MUSICIANS

 

It helps being in a family of musicians. Or I imagine it would. My brother had been... 'forced', he would probably say, into playing the violin and trombone in his school years. I have vivid memories of trying to block out the screeching and deafening sounds of both instruments when he practiced at home. He gave up as soon as he could... about 5 years later. My father, always nurturing my musical talent, often boasted about his choirboy years back in the middle ages but this never made much sense to me as he's tone-deaf. My mother can sing and does so in the local choir but the biggest influences for my musical passion were from outside the family home.

 

I've mentioned my brother's 'beautiful' playing... ahem. Well, you wouldn't be surprised to know that I didn't much like the violin. I did, however, love the cello. Once or twice a week, I regularly went to a friend's house for tea. His dad is an amazing cellist and I've had the fantastic opportunity to play clarinet with his string quartet. In those early years, I remember hearing him practice and the sheer expressive nature in the way he played was sublime. Soon afterwards, I also heard him play classical guitar and that was just as amazing. A dedicated player, he regularly set aside time to practice and showed me the importance of daily and structured practice.

 

Another fond memory of mine is that of hearing another friend's dad practice piano. Once, when I was sitting at their piano, looking curiously at the keys, he sat down and began playing, with me adding an extra note here and there. He was an amazing player and, hearing that each of the notes I chose fitted in to the tonality of the song, taught me how to play basic chords. Every time I went over, he would always ask questions about my playing and test my musical knowledge. Sadly, he passed away before I could show him how much his playing and curiosity had inspired me.

 

THE HITS

 

In other blogs, I've written about my eclectic taste in music, which I can thank my parents for. Alongside the Beatles, the regular cassettes to sing along to in the car (or in the supermarket) were Dire Straits, Rolling Stones, Fine Young Cannibals, Rod Stewart, Simply Red, Eurythmics, Supertramp, Queen, Great White, the list goes on. Outside the car though, I was a destructive child. If I wasn't damaging myself in some way, usually my head, I was destroying household objects. My father had a fairly decent sized record collection, which he would never use again as, at the age of 3, I snapped off the needle of his record player.... oops. Dad also had an impressive sound system with two built-in cassette players and a CD player. The latter of which I put sand in, so that stopped working too.

 

Come to think of it, perhaps I was exposed to so much music in the hope that I would stop destroying it and learn to appreciate it. I'd like to say it worked but I once swung my clarinet case about and all the pieces came flying out across the school yard. I also tripped and dropped it a week before my grade 7 exam, chipping the mouthpiece, which I managed to stick back together with a rubber pad and some glue. Oh, and I added to the dents in my trusty old saxophone many times over the years.. again, some of that by swinging it about my neck, which also involved a few split lips from the mouthpiece suddenly meeting my face mid swing. I just couldn't stand still and find it difficult to this day.

 

A Christmas tradition was to receive a new CD in the stockings. The more abstract it was, the better to broaden my understanding of music (artists like Brian Eno, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich). This would be played Christmas morning on the (new) CD player to mixed reactions before being swapped out for the classics (Supertramp regularly made an appearance), where we'd bear witness to the worst Dad dancing of the year, clapping, whistling and all.

 

Even when there wasn't any music playing, there would be a lyric sung here or there by my mother simply because I said something which resembled a song (a habit I would go on to have myself but not just with lyrics, quotes as well). The worst example of mum doing this is when I was accused of not washing up the dishes, saying 'It wasn't me' and to my horror, mum began singing Shaggy's 'It Wasn't Me'. I ran from the room, fingers in my ears and shouting, trying to drown out my mother singing 'But she caught me on the counter, It wasn't me'.

 

AND THAT'S NOT ALL

 

Honestly, I could go on for hours mentioning all the musical moments, big and small, which have stayed with me over the years but this blog would never end. The point is, there are so many fond moments that it seemed inevitable that I would choose music as a career path. If you enjoyed this blog and want to hear more, let me know and I can write a part 2. Thanks for reading!

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© 2020 Ed Brown