A friend of a friend once challenged me in conversation after I stated something related to music, and I’ll never forget what the guy said, with a snide tone:
“Well, what do you know about music?”
This question infuriated me, for reasons you might not fully understand. Even without that context, I had just met this person! Seriously? That’s how you’re going to treat a good friend of your friend? Not the best first impression, if you ask me!
But, true to my pacifist nature, instead of firing out my personal credentials I retorted, “Well, my parents are musicians.” Yeah, I hid behind that line. Not “I am a musician.” Not even a lighthearted “What don’t I know about music?”
It’s true, though; my mom teaches piano from our home, and my dad is a jazz bassist. They are both talented and well-versed, and deserve every penny they make.
Yours truly, circa age 3.
When you’re a musician’s daughter, you’re raised with an extreme exposure to music. On any given morning of the week, my older sister and I would wake up to “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or that song from Titanic by Celine Dion pounding out from a student downstairs. We’ve heard every wrong way to play “Für Elise” and “Yankee Doodle” known to mankind. We also knew the difference between Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra by kindergarten.
But there’s more to it than that.
You see, if there’s anything you should know about me, let alone anything remarkable, it’s my own lifelong interactions with music and my growth as a musician.
DISCLAIMER: my intention is not to show off. I’m writing this to show, to share, and to bring myself to terms with who I’ve been and how that’s relevant to who I am.
Music has defined my life: from genetics and the way I was raised, to my own interests and pursuits and my resulting knowledge of 20th Century music. Give me music or lyrics from the past 50 years; in most cases, I’ll be able to identify the song and artist.”Name that tune” or “finish these lyrics” are favorite pastimes of mine. I was notorious enough for my knowledge that I became my high school’s DJ; it was the crowning glory of my 17-year-old self.
My notoriety didn’t follow me far into college, though. When people I meet in college learn that I play piano, they ask if I’m good. I immediately respond, “Oh, no. Not at all.” But if I put aside my fear of being prideful, I’ll admit that I have near-perfect pitch*. I can play nearly any song by ear within minutes (or seconds). My repertoire includes classical pieces and modern music, which I arrange by ear. I experiment with gusto, bravado, quiet mourning, gentle musing, or spunk. What I’m trying to say is, I’ve got a few different styles at my disposal when I sit down at the keys.
(*After reading that, I’m pretty sure I have passive, not active perfect pitch – but I’ve never been tested.)
I aced music theory in high school and have written my own music. I played alto saxophone for six years and successfully soloed at a major jazz festival. I co-founded a garage band in high school, organizing and arranging many of the songs for our performances. I’ve learned the bare bones of trumpet, and I can work with the bass guitar well enough to do what I need while jamming.
Jamming. You heard me… I jam.
And I have the capacity to jam because I AM A MUSICIAN!
So… I guess that’s what I know about music.
Yet, I denied that many times. Am I modest, embarrassed, or just holding myself to an impossible standard? Maybe all three. I don’t know if it matters, though. What any answer boils down to is my belief that I’m not worthy of that title – that using it would be offensive to professional musicians.
I don’t consider myself worthy, even though my parents themselves (not to mention mentors and instructors) have poured out encouragement, finances, and time into my musicianship my entire life.
They did so not for their personal benefit, but my proficiency and development as a musician. They poured out those things so that one day I could have the gift of calling myself a musician, too.
My days in jazz band might be over, my high school garage band might be split across the country, I may have never won a prestigious music award, and I might not even be a music major.
But by God’s design, I am a musician.
I hope to never deny that again.