The Soundtrack of Our Lives
Few can deny that music is an indelible part in their lives. But how does that happen? When does it start? And why is it so persistent and pervasive?
Many say we were first exposed to music through our mother’s womb, but I can’t say that Patty Page and Perry Como made much of an impression on me as a child! But it certainly starts penetrating our brains at an early age – through parents, siblings, etc. By the time we hit school, music has already carved some strong emotional connections with life events. To this day, I can’t hear Mantovani strings without feeling hopelessly listless as I lay sick with the mumps on the living room couch on a hot Sunday in July 1957, unable to reach the radio. Desperate times, indeed!
But kindergarten was fun; learning cadence, marching about with bells, tambourines and clapping in time. Even then, you could see the more talented kids, effortlessly feeling the beat as they experienced the joy of first making their own music.
Then, in early grade school, the dreaded music lessons appeared. In my day, it was piano lessons. Skills and Drills, learning notation, scales, key signatures, all written out on those notebooks with the staff lines. But being “restless” and somewhat artistically inclined, I drew army tanks and planes instead of notes. BIG explosions – with sound effect words, too. My teacher, a full-fledged member of the Sisters of the Benedictine Order, was none too impressed, however. Exotic Catholic punishments ensued, until my mother yanked me out of lessons because I was wasting their money. It wasn’t due to lack of talent, however…I just didn’t see anything relevant in taking piano lessons at the age of 8. I was bored silly with the drills and the archaic songs I had to learn.
Fast forward 3 years, though, and music REALLY hit me – head on! The Beatles EXPLODED on the American scene and changed popular music forever. Suddenly, it was cool to sing, get a guitar, practice…anything to imitate these coolest of cool guys. It was literally a cultural revolution, with every British band immediately dominating the American rock scene. Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Yardbirds and others ruled the musical roost in rock n’ roll, and ruled my life as well.
Music became everything for me – it was personal, it was part of my social currency. At home, I grew up with my raggedy Kingston guitar perpetually hanging on my shoulder, torturing my family with rudimentary versions of She Loves You, Paint it Black and House of the Rising Sun. And my parents put up with it, thank God. But most of all, this music became RELEVANT to my life. I was totally motivated to learn these songs, and my bloody guitar fingers showed it. This wasn’t the old classical stuff that was forced on me in piano lessons. It was new material from MY generation. It was fun, a bit dangerous, and our parents HATED it! (which made us love it even more) And of course, this music hit me during one of the most socially intense times of my life – being a teenager. Impressions and emotions ran rampant, and the music was my personal soundtrack for those impressionable times. Just a few notes can bring back vivid memories. Even today, I hear a song on the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers album – and POOF! I’m running around on a lakeside dock in the summer playing ragtag with my friends…especially the girls!
So what’s the point of all this musical musing?
First, most people “connect” somehow to music, either consciously or unconsciously, and those connections are formed in different ways. But most importantly, they are all EMOTIONAL connections. Music can excite us, inspire us, soothe us, even annoy us – all emotional reactions. And we associate those emotions and related experiences with the music we were listening to at the time. And we build new associations constantly as we are exposed to more music. Music is, you might say, “emotional shorthand.” It can connect us to experiences and emotions MUCH faster than a photo or the written word. As such, music exposure and education is critical to our learning and creativity, and should be encouraged strongly in both our homes and schools. Take, for example, the Little Kids Rock program, which transforms kids lives through dynamic and exciting music education. At Stephen Arnold Music, we support this program BIG time. Check it out!
Second, I think it’s important for anyone exploring music and playing an instrument, that they be exposed to learning music that is relevant to their lives. While we all need to learn our scales, practice technique and learn the “classics,” being allowed to learn tunes that you’re excited about is essential to fueling and stoking that musical “fire” that can burn within. Look at this program that really gets the kids excited!
So if your child is just beginning music lessons, get them excited about also learning to play the songs they already love. Encourage them to just – kind of pick ’em out by ear. Believe me, when they string together a few familiar notes, the light will pop on and their eyes will widen: “Hey…this isn’t all work, this is FUN! Can I start a band in the basement?”
Hmmm…at least you’ll know where they are at night!