June 27, 2018
My Music Literacy
I remember the first time I saw my older brother Noah holding his flute. My family and I had just left Music Mike’s in Riverside, and he held it with the utmost delicacy on the way to the car. I was excited for him. I was excited to get home and find out what it sounded like as compared to all the guitars and the piano that we had at home. Although I found that as happy as I was for my brother, jealousy lingered. He was so lucky, getting the chance to do something this special. Music was such a magical thing to me and it seemed as if only those who were older or more mature had access to it. Reading music wasn’t something I’d even taken into consideration at the time, but I was determined to be a part of this new world.
It started shortly after my brother began to take lessons at school. A simple glance while he practiced; this gleaming wand of wonder staring back at me. Then I would look around, before deciding the coast was clear, and placed my fingers on different keys as I silently pretended to be an adept musician. Even the act of wiping off my prints afterwards like some criminal became second nature. Yet as thrilling as it was to peek into this seemingly off-limits world of wonder and creativity, my curiosity could not be satiated. So naturally, I went a step further one day and attempted to produce a “music” sound, whatever that should sound like. And naturally, my brother became angry with me. He snatched his flute out of my hands, telling me not to put my mouth on someone else’s instrument. “It’s gross, and it’s my flute! If you want to play the flute then get your own!”
Looking back now, I can acknowledge that I wasn’t old enough to understand why this was a problem. Just as Noah wasn’t yet equipped with the understanding and the patience to explain to me why this was. Although this unexplained bout of anger took me by surprise, it didn’t deter me from pursuing what I wanted. “Ok then”, I responded. “Who needs your stinky flute anyway? Not me.” And that was that. Not even a month later my Nonnie and my Nana walked me into Music Mike’s; only for me to walk out with a flute of my very own. This was my first step towards learning one of the things I now know that I couldn’t possibly live without.
One of my first sponsors just so happens to be my Nonnie. Not only did she provide me with the opportunity to begin learning, but she herself played the flute at a young age, as well as the piano. This was definitely advantageous to me because I had someone from day one to help me read my first notes and show me how to properly align my fingers to the correct keys. It wasn’t until I was in at least the fourth or fifth grade, however, that I started to participate in lessons that my school provided. I even decided to join my school’s band. I remember coming home each day with new things to practice, and my Nonnie would set aside whatever it was that she was doing in order to ensure that I understood my homework. Learning to read and play music was one of the first things that resonated with me as a child. In a way, it was set in stone. I could drag my feet home after a particularly awful or boring day and my music would be waiting for me, unchanged with the promise of peace and relaxation. 5
This sense of peace and relaxation continued up until about the seventh grade. I was placed in advanced band alongside one of my friends, Laurel, who also played the flute and I’d already noticed a change in my approach to music. Being one of the two seventh graders in my music class wasn’t very encouraging to begin with, and I felt small, like I had to prove somehow that I belonged with the rest of my classmates. Laurel was a little quiet, and she kept to herself so it didn’t feel as if I had someone that I could relate to. Not to mention my music teacher didn’t make things any easier. This brings me to another sponsor of mine. His name was Mr. Guzman. I would show up to my fourth period music class, and he would be stressed or in a bad mood. Sometimes both. To this day I remain unsure as to why he was so upset the majority of the time, but he focused that negativity on the flutes.
My anxiety in that class began to skyrocket and I felt myself shrinking away from something that I used to hold so dear. Fourth period eventually became extremely unpleasant for me, as I was worried about becoming the focal point of Mr. Guzman’s agitation for the day. Being in my school’s band had also become somewhat unpleasant. My Nonnie and my Nana and my brothers would come to the performances to support me and watch me play, but I found myself counting the minutes until I could remove myself from whatever stage or field we were performing on. Practicing no longer felt like it even mattered; I wasn’t very good anyway, right? This once trustworthy and exciting world became bitter and unwelcoming. Soon after my family could see how upset I was every day. At one point I simply had to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t want to be in the band anymore. It wasn’t a conclusion that I came to lightly, however. Even as I became unhappy, I didn’t ask to be removed from band. This feeling of sadness overcame me. My flute had become a burden, and I felt like I had lost something special.
In the light of this realization, I was able to release myself of this weight that I carried. I went from “that’s my friend Gwen. She’s in the band.”, to “that’s my friend Gwen.” It was liberating. While Mr. Guzman may not have been a positive sponsor, he was a sponsor all the same. In me deciding that I no longer wanted to play the flute, I was given the breathing room I needed before I wanted to pursue music again. And while this moment of reprieve was definitely what I needed, I’d often find myself looking at instruments, whether it be in passing or online (although I don’t remember exactly how I got to them each time). All that I had to say for a long time, I felt, was “hm.” I was well into my sophomore year in high school when I finally decided to play an instrument again. But this time around, I knew that I didn’t want to play the flute. I felt an odd pull towards stringed instruments. Naturally, I picked up the violin. And then put it down. That was not the sound I was looking for. After some time and a lot of thinking on the matter, I managed to narrow it down to two instruments: the cello, and the harp. Both are capable of making some very high tones, although this was not what appealed to me. It was the deepness of the bass that both instruments were capable of that so strongly appealed to me. After some thinking and a little time to do some research on both instruments, I came to my decision. I wanted to learn to play the harp.
I fell in love this large, beautiful beast that hums against your chest when it is brought to life. It’s essentially a gutted piano, and the idea of my fingers interacting with the strings instead of the piano hammers was so interesting to me. Long before I even began taking lessons, I found myself watching videos of an incredibly skilled harpist on YouTube. Her name is Valérie Milot. One of her videos in particular became my new favorite. The video is eleven minutes and twelve seconds long, and she plays without making a single mistake. She didn’t pluck the strings; she glided over them. It was one fluid movement after another and I was once again this curious child, trying to catch every note. Looking back on how long it took me to find the instrument that I loved, I’m very fortunate to have had my Nonnie there alongside me. Not once did she tell me that I couldn’t pick up an instrument because it was too expensive. Not once was I presented with impatience, or a lack of support.
Growing up in a family that valued music and art has definitely been encouraging. It’s probably what kept me from deciding that I never wanted to play music again. Even now, I find myself taking this for granted and not practicing nearly as much as I should. Yet now when I think of music, I don’t feel upset or hopeless. I play for myself, and right now that’s enough for me. Sure, I feel intimidated every now and then, but it’s no longer enough for me to starve myself of something so precious. Today, my music is no longer set in stone. Music is so much more than just being “music”, one solid, unchanging force. I understand now that it’s what I make of it. I won’t be perfect all the time and I won’t even be nearly as positive about it as I am now, but I know that I’m not letting go of it ever again.