Monday, June 19, 2017

Music is a Mood Booster

Feeling down in the dumps? Kinda' depressed about nothing and everything? Music is a mood booster. When I hear a great song on the radio and sing along, I automatically feel better. When I'm playing my ukulele I really feel great. Just the act of singing and raising my voice makes breathing easier and more regulated. Music is my therapy of choice.
My earliest musical instrument, the Hurdy Gurdy! This is at my 4th birthday party, Roxbury Park, Beverly Hills with Robbie Feldman

When I was a child, my Mother used to play the piano all the time. She was quite good. Sometimes, when she played popular songs, I would sing along. She taught me how to read music and play a few tunes. Later, I took piano lessons and became somewhat proficient in sight reading. I never continued with the piano, which I regret. At least I had a basic knowledge of the keyboard and reading music to progress to other instruments.
My brother, on the other hand, took to playing music immediately. He was in the school orchestra as a youngster and had private lessons on the clarinet. Later, he picked up the flute, saxophone, French horn and more. At about the same time, Ken wanted to learn how to play the guitar. My Dad owned a classical guitar and was taking some lessons at adult school. Ken got hold of Dad's guitar one day, looked at the music and played the classical riffs that my Dad had been struggling with...just like that!
My brother Ken and his clarinet, 1960, Los Angeles

From that time on, my brother Ken has been a multi-instrumentalist and a luthier. In addition to the instruments mentioned above, he plays banjo, fiddle, zither, bowed dulcimer, traditional dulcimer, steel guitar, bandura, sitar and many more obscure stringed instruments. He has made music his life's work.
Ken with his 7-string guitar, Pilot Mtn., NC, 2017

I was very lucky to be around the house and become Ken's little musical protégé. Since my hands were too small to learn guitar, Ken 
taught me how to play the ukulele. I really don't remember having a ukulele, 
because I graduated to guitar and banjo rapidly. When I was 10 years old, 
Ken registered me as a beginning contestant at the Topanga Banjo and 
Fiddle Contest. I won! I didn't enter the following year, but the third year, I 
registered again in the beginning category and won a third place ribbon. I 
was going downhill fast. 
During high school, my best friends were in Band and Orchestra. Luckily, I could
count measures, so I asked to be in the percussion section. In Orchestra I played
whatever minor percussion instruments were necessary, usually the triangle. In
band, since I'd played piano, I was given the chore of playing the Glockenspiel!
That's me with the Glockenspiel on the right. Click on photo to embiggen

switched to playing guitar more often in high school and continued through 
college, going back to banjo periodically.
Wig Wam Motor Court Jamboree, 2011, Rialto, CA

During my high school and college years I was a camp counselor at Idyllwild 
School of Music and the Arts. I accompanied many campfire songfests. 
Needless to say, I didn't really need to be too accomplished to play the three 
chords necessary for those songs.
Duet with Jonde Northcutt, Idyllwild, 1970

I always had an instrument available to play in the subsequent years, but never 
really concentrated on getting to be a better player until I re-discovered the 
ukulele. I bought an inexpensive uke about 11 years ago and took lessons.
All of my early training kicked in (thanks, Kenny). I was hooked. I've been 
participating in ukulele groups, workshops and going to ukulele festivals for 
the past eleven years.
My sweet Brother built me a custom ukulele in 2010!
Picking out a few tunes on Nancy's autoharp
At The Fender Factory, Corona, CA, 2015
Ready to play and sing "Easter Parade," 2016
One of these days I might buy a Banjolele! Music Center 2016

I love to play and sing. Not that I'm any good at captivating others, but at least I like to 
entertain myself! After playing and singing for just a few minutes, I feel happy. One of
these days maybe I'll even improve my playing!
Ukulele Workshop, Culver City, 2017. This is my new Kala Tenor Ukulele, Salt and Pepper / Dog Hair finish. Photo by Cali Rose

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At 5:43 AM PDT, Blogger ken bloom said...

Wow Ell. What a great walk down the musical memory lane. It is always great to be able to share the musical experience with other folks no matter the level. I really enjoyed the little bit of playing together we did when I was out there visiting. Just like old times. I think you might have more instruments than I do!

At 10:50 AM PDT, Blogger Jaundiced Eye said...

Music is uplifting. After playing guitar for over fifty years, I feel it now more than ever.

At the time my kid brother turned me onto "Get off My Cloud," I was more into fishing or riding my bike. Yet there was something about early rock-and-roll that inspired me to take the handmade classical guitar off the living room wall where it'd hung as decoration. Despite the huge crack in the table from years of sun, dust and dryness, and the completely tarnished wound strings and brittle gut strings, every bent note I managed to extract from it was very, very uplifting.

My mother hoped one of us would study piano, and she was probably horrified at my growing enthusiasm for rock-and-roll guitar. My father was at first fairly indifferent, his only comment being that I was playing "blues," I suppose meaning it wasn't really the rock-and-roll I hoped it was, possibly in hopes of discouraging me. But I was such a young, rural Upper Canada bumpkin, I hadn't a clue what he meant by "blues." When Rock started getting played on the radio, called it horrible; when it started getting played at home he upgraded to terrible.

First full song I learned was "The Battle of New Orleans," taught to me by a cowboy cousin of a school-chum; it took me a year to master the C-chord in it.

Over the years I've gotten "in-a-rut" and occasionally lost interest in playing; a few times I played only a mouthorgan . But then, whenever I got back into playing guitar, I'd wonder how I ever could have let it go for so long.

I'm retired now, play on my veranda. I've had similar reacquaintance like yours with the ukelele, only mine is with the banjo after many years without even touching one; long enough that it's hard to tell if it's joy simply hearing the voice of a long lost friend or if it's hearing with different ears given the whole development over the interceding years. It's inspired me to pay more attention to theoretical and technical details than maybe is typical of old West Coast hippie musicians, and it may be ironic that it's probably because of the banjo's primitive modality.

I reminded of times when I'd be in some logging camp for weeks without a guitar because of a bush-plane cargo restriction that precluded bringing one. When I got home that same old guitar sounded magical and I seemed to play like never before. I noticed this happened after as little as a weekend without playing.

Once, about a week before I was scheduled to open for the Seattle Labor Choir, I cut a tendon in my ring finger; the local doc mended it, but I had to practice and perform with my finger in a splint. I was amazed how fast a new arrangement of fingers felt like normal. I've intentionally disabled (with popsicle sticks and tape) other, uninjured fingers and the same thing happens; same with a new tuning. And of course playing with new people.

I keep instruments close to hand, even in my car--- got pulled over by the cops one time---but it's been important, especially in composing because one wants to capture spontaneity without delay. I recently recommend it to a friend who got a nice Martin guitar to learn on but kept it in a case in the closet; so we put it on a hanger in her parlour, ready to pick up and play.

The first chord or note played on any given day seems to have magical depth and richness of tone and timbre that quickly becomes obscured by structural rote. It's possible to cultivate this effect to some extent. I suspect it relates to the phenomena above, each having to do with sharpening alertness to new or renewed sounds. I tell students to begin each session by really, really listening to the sound of the machine they're playing, not the musical construct. That's what really boosts my mood.

Thnx again,

At 10:54 AM PDT, Blogger Ellen Bloom said...

Thanks for telling your musical story, Scotty! Very inspiring!


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