Strike a chord . . .
or pluck a line of strings . . .
you’ll find you’re touching more than chords—
an accord within that sings.
Piano was my first instrument—the one I wanted to play, perhaps with a hope that I would somehow gain rank with my older sisters who were seven and eight years ahead of me. There seemed to be no physical way to close that gap unless, perhaps, I learned this instrument and its “Rosetta Stone” notation.
Fortunately, I had another motivation. My mother introduced me to that artful pleasure of “playing by ear” before I could read musical notes. She also had a collection of LPs (long-playing record albums) that included classical piano by Rachmaninoff, original Broadway cast recordings, and jazz vocalists such as Frank Sinatra.
I now appreciate with near awe how she turned our “little house on the prairie” into a cultural oasis that included reading, calligraphy, pen and ink art, and painting.
When it comes to music, I think the most important instrument she introduced me to was my ear. Throughout my education it was said I had a “good ear”, but thanks to my mother, I also learned an attitude of approaching efforts with love, not reproaching efforts with judgment of perfection.
It made learning new instruments (and by extension, life) a happier pursuit, undaunted by fear of falling short. Though I spent years in disciplined practice of piano, flute and bassoon which included playing before judges, my inner judge, like my kind mother, never wavered in compassion.
Like a school mate that one may lose track of when life moves on, I lost track of an instrument that I’d worked hard to master—the bassoon. I had only had access to one while playing in band and orchestra, a period that ended after college. I wonder if I could play it still. I wonder if, like a foreign language, I’d pick it up again if I tried.
Other things changed with time. The keyboard I now play is not the acoustic piano, but a digital instrument. I am now rusty at writing musical notation which used to come almost as easy as writing thank you notes. Software built into keyboard RAM, can now, to great extent, do that musical transcription.
Guitar used to go everywhere with me—even on airplanes. It was my instrument of choice when I set off for college, leaving the piano behind in my parents house. My flute came along too, but I then realized I needed more than a melodic instrument.
I used to tune my guitar in unique ways to prompt me into finding unusual chords. Just listening to the chords gave me a physical and psychological boost. I could almost feel—and still do—something happening in my brain when I explore chords. I can well understand how music was employed in hospitals of Andalusia to help with both physical and mental healing.
Aside from the healing aspects of listening, it seems that holding an instrument has added benefit. As I hold either my guitar or Celtic harp, the sound waves find their way through the wood and into my own emotional grain. I learned this a few years ago when I was tuning my harp. I found that even in the tuning itself, I found tremendous relief (is that the word?). It was as if I was tuning my own resonance—to something beyond music.