Tuesday, March 1, 2011

And the band plays on

I have had an interest in playing a musical instrument for a long time. As a young adult, while living in Rio, I took piano lessons for a while. Later, when my mother was unable to continue playing the accordion, I ‘inherited’ it. But it stayed in a corner. For a long time, what with work, family, etc., I did not pursue my musical interests. 

In the last few years, I got interested again, but with my irregular work schedule, I found it difficult to arrange for lessons. So I bought a number of self-teaching books, both for piano and accordion, but it did not work out that well. I really wanted to play the accordion and practiced for a while, but never got beyond the very basics. Plus the weight of the accordion bothered my shoulders. I changed to a keyboard, but again got stuck when the music became more difficult.

Now, in retirement, it seemed like a good time to get back into learning an instrument. Then, I saw a notice about a seniors’ band being formed locally, looking for older adults interested in participating. I did not have to think for long - I signed up and joined the band. Each session lasts 15 weeks, and costs $150, so it’s not free.

The band master and organizer is a retired high school music teacher. He has been organizing seniors’ bands for several years. When I registered, about 16 interested folks showed up, most with no musical experience. Not all stayed on. There was a selection of instruments to try out: brass (e.g. trumpet and horn), woodwind (flute and clarinet), drums, xylophone, and the piano. One couple had brought their own guitars. Some people knew what they wanted to try, but most did not and spent some time blowing through different wind instruments until they settled on what felt best. I did not need any trials – I knew I wanted the piano. I was the only one, but some other bands can have quite a number of keyboard players. 

So my musical instruction began. But not quite as I thought. Playing in a band is very different from playing on your own. The piano is more in the background, playing accompanying accords rather than the melody. For me, that felt like jumping in at the deep end. Individual instruction is minimal, as everybody needs some attention. Those playing the wind instruments – who had to learn how to blow – got the most help. As they also are the ones playing the melody, they are the main focus of attention.

I have to play accords (3 notes at once) with the right hand, while playing one note with the left hand. I was told that I did not have to play the left hand for starters, but at home I always practiced with both hands. 

Now we’ve had over a month of practice, and the sounds coming from everyone are more pleasing to the ear! My piano playing, however, is getting harder, as more accords are added.  Since the finger position changes with each accord, I’m often not sure how to do it – argh!  – I could use some more instruction! 

Well, I’ll keep working at it. For now, I don’t have the time (imagine – retired with no time!) to take proper piano lessons, but once the band practices end in May, I hope to do it.  And it is nice being part of a group where all are beginners.

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