I was once a somewhat musical person. That most delicate of instruments, the accordion, “ran” in our family. My father played briefly when he was young, my oldest brother played, and I was the last to take up that weighty mantle. I’m sure the squeezebox contributed to my somewhat, ahem, flattened front anatomy, not to mention arms that seem rather too long. I attribute the extra length to lugging around that boulder of an instrument. If you want a girl child of normal build and curvature, have her play piano or flute.
At the time, I didn’t appreciate the music lessons my parents gave me, but they served me well later in life. When I joined the Ultimate Party Choir at St. Cyril’s of Alexandria in Houston, I could read music, blend my voice with the alto beside me, and hold my own at the tailgate parties in the church parking lot after Easter vigil mass (till the police arrived to shoo us away for being too loud and probably drunk).
I ate and drank classical music. I slept with Dvorak, a few of the Bachs, the odd Mozart or two — all issuing forth nightly from my bedside radio (remember radio?) If I could understand the words, i.e. the song was sung in English, my nose would twitch upward. Only Latin or German met my standards, and preferably would be written by long dead white guys. There might be a guilty bit of Gilbert & Sullivan, but you’ve got to think mighty fast to be able to keep up with those words. Better yet, there’d be no words at all — the best pieces were strictly instrumental, and God forbid the instruments be anything other than acoustic.
At the middling age of 40, I took up classical guitar. It was really a desperate attempt to kick-start a brain atrophying from years of mind-numbing clerical jobs and living in the suburbs. It took five years of lessons for me to figure out I was probably not meant to play a stringed instrument. If the notes were anywhere above or below the five lines and four spaces of the musical scale, I was basically lost. My instructor (bless him for trying) was a stickler for tone, and I was lucky just to be able to even get the notes, let alone make them sound pretty. I developed serious anxiety about attending lessons to the point where my hands shook so much I could hardly play at all.
The one scenario where I could play was with a group or in a duet. Just for the heck of it, I enrolled in a community college music class where I played, nominally, with a group of long-haired young men about half my age who were waaaaay better at guitar than me. I was the only female in the class and would sit in the back with an older guy who played bass who was also there just for fun. I drove 60 miles one way to participate in that class. And it was fun, right down to the little recital we had at the end of the session. My most important part in that recital was playing a low “E” for about 60 measures of “Great Gate of Kiev” from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. But I played that “E” really well and was proud of it. Mike came with friends to our little recital, bringing me a bouquet of yellow silk roses like I was Somebody, and the four of us vacated to the parking lot to send a cork flying and drink champagne after the musical ensemble took its bows. I still have those roses.
I want to do something musical again, but I haven’t figured out what that is. With a twinge of sadness, I’ve set aside my once-beloved classical music. It’s just become far too regimented and controlled for me. Now I’m rolling like a dog in cat poop in the blues and Texas music. There’s a wildness and raw, unrestrained emotion and big time fun in both of those genres and I’m mining them to the utmost. I realize I’m late to the game but I feel really bad about Stevie Ray Vaughan. He died (August 27, 1990). And I’m running as fast as I can to catch up my music education, blasting “The Road Goes on Forever” at top volume in the Magic Bus (which has an excellent sound system, especially with the windows open in a really quiet neighborhood), and listening to Muddy Waters sing “Mannish Boy,” and snickering at Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog”, which ain’t nothin’ after seeing Big Mama Thornton perform it.
But that leaves me wondering where I fit in. Can I reinvent as a blues singer? I’ve noticed if I drink enough vodka my voice gets exponentially lower but stronger so maybe it’s time to start wailin’. I guess I’ve been doing that for a while (wailing, that is); I just need a musical angle. What would Big Mama do? I bet she’d put on a big ol’ grin, blow on that harmonica, and sing Elvis out of the building. I think I’d look great wearing that hat.