Music has been an essential part of my life for as long as I can remember…it is as crucial to my existence as food and water…without it, I would not be the person that I am.
My father sang throughout high school and university, in church (he was a Methodist minister) and at home. He sings bass in the Saint John Men’s Chorus, and has performed as part of the chorus in a couple of local operas. Dad prefers music of a classical or religious nature (his solo version of “They Call the Wind Mariah” is one that sticks in my mind), although he has done a few show tunes, and occasionally enjoys listening to more popular fare such as Kenny Rogers or John Denver. Mom bought him a guitar when we were kids, and he taught himself to play. I still have tapes of us singing “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
My mom’s father was an excellent organist (I remember him playing the theme from “The Sting”)…we used to stand around the organ at Christmas and sing carols. Mom and her three sisters grew up playing saxophone or clarinet in high school band. Mom loved music enough to want to major in it in university, but only lasted a year before homesickness sent her back to her parents. She had “perfect pitch” – I think that’s why I find it so difficult to tolerate off-key singing. Mom’s musical tastes were a lot broader than Dad’s – along with classical favourites such as Vivaldi and Debussy, she liked Simon and Garfunkel and other early folkies. In the 1970’s, she discovered Roberta Flack – I always think of Mom when I hear “Killing Me Softly.”
I began picking out tunes by ear on our piano at age three, and started formal lessons with Miss Goldie Roe when I was five. Miss Roe was elderly, and one of the sweetest women I’ve ever known. Lessons were a dollar for an hour, which was quite a bit of money for my parents in the late ’60’s. I remember that Miss Roe had broken her wrist at one point, but wrote left-handed in my lesson book the pieces I was to practice – I still have those books, complete with the pretty stickers she gave me each week. My lessons stopped the summer we moved to Canada – we sold the piano because it was too big to move (I was halfway through the Second Grade of John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano)!
Our first home in Canada came with an old pump organ, but it didn’t work very well. I borrowed my dad’s guitar and taught myself enough chords to be able to sing songs I liked. My parents bought me a recorder, and I learned to play that too – it wasn’t my favourite instrument.
About 1970, I saw an ad on TV for a compilation disc put out by K-Tel: “22 Explosive Hits.” That was the first album I ever bought – it had the techno song, “Popcorn” on it, and several other classics. I listened to it over and over again on my mom’s stereo – I was delighted to find it again in her record collection after she passed away. Over the next few years, I would save my paper route and babysitting money, and go to “Sam the Record Man” and buy albums on sale (some of it was total crap!). I would put on a record and dance to it, all by myself…I always played the whole album…I never had any respect for people who skipped songs! I went to all the school dances in junior high – I loved Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business”!
Once I got to high school, I joined the school band – my parents bought me a flute, which took me a good week to learn how to get a sound out of. I never was a very good player – had trouble narrowing my airstream enough to hit the high notes! I loved the social aspect of band though – we got to travel around and perform. Our conductor, Mr. Williams, was quite comical to watch, but very committed to his work!
When I was about fifteen, I had my very brief “hard rock” period – I bought Kiss’s double album – “Alive”, and played it all the time for a few months – my parents probably wanted to throttle me…
After high school, one of my first jobs was in a camera store in the mall, which happened to be right next door to the record store – there was a very cute boy who worked there (he had an earring – the classic “bad boy”) – I was smitten! My record collection grew considerably after that! I was buying mainly pop – Bryan Adams, the Police, Billy Joel, and Elton John. In 1981, I went to my first rock concert – a friend and I took the train to Toronto and saw Genesis with 40,000 other people at Exhibition Place – a scary experience for two teenagers from Prince Edward County!
To be continued…