Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Putting It Out There…

I’ve been asked a lot about this in recent years and I never really talk about it because it was a long time ago and I don’t practice much these days because I’m always working…The subject I’m referring to is the fact that I am/was a musician.

Many of you know I am/have attended colleges and several at that. I went to Normandale Community College after I graduated high school and managed to “scrape” by with an associates in Pre-law and a good working start in Music as a minor. I decided to move to Mankato right afterward and after spending a year there "bumming around” I attended the then Mankato State. I started in Pre-law but changed mid-year to Music Performance. I auditioned for the director by performing para-diddles on his desk with my drumsticks. All without knowing how to read, write or play very well. Once accepted into the College of Fine Arts, all majors met briefly as a group with the Dean who informed us that he “highly discouraged” us to have jobs, or boy/girl-friends because we were going to have to live, breathe, eat music while here. He told each of us what the GPA expectation was and that we failed any music class more than twice we were out-permanently. I was told on an individual basis that I was competing with students that have been playing since they were in grade school, so the expectation was that I learn, and quickly how to read, write and play my instrument or I was out.
Noting this, I decided to take my shot at First Year Music Theory which is a writing, reading and sight singing course. It’s very hard and not many pass. It’s also a yearly course so if you fail first semester you waited a year to retake it. Of course being green and not willing to ease my way in, I took it and promptly failed.

By the following year I was ready. I got through first year fairly easily and made some very cool friends. Many of whom had been in music since they were babies or who performed in local bands around town. I would get frustrated because I had to work very hard to “catch up” with the reading/writing/playing just to watch my friend’s breeze through our courses. I was determined though. I started spending every waking and extra moment in the practice rooms or orchestra room practicing the marimba/timpani/jazz kit/piano or the guitar. Sometimes when a bunch of us would be practicing we’d sit out in the hall and jam with the doors open. In K fashion I was managing this while working 2 jobs- one locally and one in the Cities.

At the end of each semester we had to perform what they called a “jury” for every instrument we played. I played 1 section (percussion) and played 2 instruments (piano and marimba or kit etc) so I always had 2 juries per semester. When all juries were completed and grades posted we’d head out across the street to the Albatross to party for the weekend. Some of our friends were in local “active” rock bands like Crosstown Traffic. My friend Joel; who used to tune my kit for me played drums for them and then changed their name to the Electric Hairbrush shortly after he joined. Once second term started I was told I had to be in 2 bands- group and individual. I chose Marching band and Symphony Orchestra for my group. In Marching Band (which I hated) I was never allowed to play the snare, but to play “auxiliary percussion” basically claves, cowbell, tambourine, triangle etc. I figured fuck it, I’ll just be the “Stevie Nicks” of the MSU Marching Band. For the individual I simply took percussion lessons. I already knew “how” to play the drums-Rock n’Roll style but didn’t have a friggin’ clue how to play jazz kit, marimba, timpani, bells or simple snare much less read the classical music for it. So I learned fairly quickly, for I was informed that I would be performing 2-3 times per semester in the auditorium in front of my peers and some of the music staff. Well, if you can count, that is a lot of performing and I didn’t like it; at first. Once I started doing it more often I turned into this huge ham. Once while performing “The Sleeping Beauty” waltz on piano in front of my class and 3 members of the music staff, I decided that I would rather end the piece like Jerry Lee Lewis performing “Great Balls of Fire” instead of how it was written. Thank god I got the laughs I wanted instead of a lower performance grade. That’s how most of my performances were from there on out. I did get reprimanded on a few occasions for improvising instead of playing what was written, but I was never a strong performer and I used the humor to cover that. I also was never good at the sight singing portion of theory which became more evident as I moved forward with Second Year. I used to practice for hours on the sight singing and seemed to never quite grasp it. Where I seemed to excel was the written and ear training portions. Sometimes if we missed an exam we did ear training tests in the Theory teacher’s office. I rarely did badly on those; I rarely had any incorrect answers. I was eventually re-tested and found that I had “relative pitch”; the ability to tell the KIND of CHORD/NOTE that I’m hearing. Every chord is a group of tones that has its own special sound: Major, Minor, Augmented, Dominant Seventh, etc. I can hear each note that is played. This is how most people can compose and play by ear. Who’d a known?! This helped me get through Second Year. I did join the drum line briefly but the politics, drama and gender issues (I was the only female percussionist that year) caused too many issues and I quit.

Sometime during the end of that year I had some sort of mental break down. I noticed it when I was playing this semi-complex snare piece during individual lessons. I got to this section of notes and just couldn’t play it, I could play it slowly but not in the time written. I struggled with it for weeks and just eventually just broke down and cried. I couldn’t do it, I simply couldn’t plow through it as I had with other road blocks I’d run into. My prof suggested that I either take a break the following semester or drop, because he thought I was burning myself out. I decided he was right. I was still working 2 jobs and now instead of working on 1 instrument I was on 4 and that was double the practice time. I only took music classes and no lessons that semester. I concentrated on my other "non-music" classes and the only performing I did was in the hall of the music building or with my friends. It was around that time I was getting a bit restless and with some nudging from my roommate, we decided to move to Phoenix and go to ASU. I finished up term, applied to Arizona State, was accepted and within three months we moved across the country.

I had been told I wouldn’t have to formally audition but the Director wanted me to audition marimba and timpani. I asked if I could practice on the instruments in the Symphony room and was told I was not allowed to used any of the instruments in the Fine Arts building until I was accepted to the College, then I would be given a key. That left me with snare or piano which they weren’t interested in me auditioning for…I was also told I’d have to take Second Year Music Theory over which definitely pissed me off. It was hard the first time around, more than half my first year peers failed or dropped out, there was no way I would take it again, but they felt I could do better than a B-. Begrudgingly I took it again and started to practice for my audition. I was mostly bored during theory and ended up being a tutor for the class. By end of the semester I had all but dropped the idea of practicing for an audition that I couldn’t practice for and my Theory grade was lower than my original B-. I had enough and dropped out of ASU permanently. I just couldn’t practice as much as I wanted, I worked 2 jobs again and my living situation was spinning out of control.

I moved back to Minnesota after my shitty experience in Phoenix and lived with a musician for 10 years. Experiencing the life,I decided that I really don’t have the pallet for being a “starving artist” and gave up on the music thing for awhile. I would practice in my music room on occasion and have taken some “one off” classes at McPhail (Phalen huh Todd?) but as P tells me, I “don’t have a passion for it anymore”. It’s also pretty difficult to live in an apartment, condo, townhouse or house when your neighbors don't share the same passion for hitting the skins or cranking the amp to 10. I have/do work(ed) musically with my friend Das, my ex, guys I’ve dated and a few of my friends from the old college days but nothing in the past 10 years to brag about. I still play my guitar, borrow my ex’s keyboard, sing a lot or pull out some of my auxiliary percussion stuff. I’ve been known to write music; cello and violin, oboe and clarinet, marimba and piano pieces from time to time and always write lyrics to songs I have in my head.

It’s been asked why I never performed in a bar or with a “rock” band and to tell the truth I really don’t need the attention and if male fans carried on the way female fans do, I might actually decide to take that route. Truth be told; I’m not a great player. I’m a pretty decent writer and singer but that is it. In the past 10 years I haven’t seen a surge of local bands needing female singers and I’m not interested in being in a Tribute band because I believe (coming from classical training) that the best songs/bands are the originals. This belief isn't meant to be a negative flip on any of my friends or acquaintances that play in these bands, the fact that they get out there and kick ass is a boon for all who come see them, nor is it meant to negatively reflect upon their talent, for I have some seriously talented friends out there. For the time being I prefer to support the local flavor that are “active” musicians and that seems to be enough for me…for now…

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