To say that music has always important in my life might be a bit cliché, but it is true. My relationship with music began when I was young. Memories from that time are spread out in my mind like a kaleidoscope but I can only remember listening to three records of my father’s when I was a kid: The Irish Rovers, Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell and Sergey Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Op. 64. My father had a good sized vinyl collection, but those two are the only ones I can remember. I grew up in the Ottawa Valley. My parents owned a small hobby farm outside of a small village called Kinburn. I spent my days as a child stomping around the fields, picking up toads and putting them in buckets, jumping from the rafters of our barn into old stale hay and climbing trees. During the winter months, the village held a weekend winter carnival. Families from the village and the nearby concessions would come together during the day for games, food, skating and a dance in the evening. It was during these carnivals that I had heard an actual band play for the first time. I remember watching people step dance, sing, play fiddle, guitar, feel the drums in the souls of my feet. Hearing music played live for the first time triggered something in me that I did not question and would not fully understand for a long time.
In the early eighties, music programs in elementary schools were fairly barebones. There were no string programs in the schools I attended. My classroom was filled with choir and recorder lessons and the odd go at a triangle. It wasn’t until I went into high school that I had the opportunity to learn to play a more “serious” musical instrument. I started playing the piano by ear at home when I was five or six, but learning to play an actual instrument of my own. In truth, I longed to learn how to play the fiddle, but my first instrument instead was the clarinet.
The ability to make music became as important to me as hearing it during those high school years. I never asked myself why. I never questioned my need to be surrounded by music. It simply was what I wanted around me. As I moved through high school, I learned other instruments whenever I could: Bass clarinet, oboe, saxophone, flute, trumpet, tuba, whatever I was allowed to try and learn, I learned. I joined the concert band in grade nine, and stayed with it until I graduated in grade thirteen. We performed a lot as a band, even travelled to Tennessee during my last year of high school. Some of my best friends now are kids I played in band and music class all those years ago.
I did not grow up in a very musical family. I was the only child of five who played an instrument in high school, and while my siblings did not always understand or appreciate my need to practice at home, we all enjoyed music. We would listen to music, sing at church, go to concerts, listen to our friends play, and when I left home, I kept going to hear live music whether I was living in Senegal or Ottawa, Toronto, London or the rest of Southwestern Ontario. I listened. When I had a family of my own, I took my children to live performances whenever I could while they were growing up because I wanted them to feel the music too. They in turn, picked up musical instruments, joined the choir, continuing the musical cycle.
Up until recently I had not thought or felt the need to justify why live music is important, and explain to anyone why it is good for my life. It wasn’t until a little less than a year ago that I was suddenly being challenged on a personal level to demonstrate the value of live music to a community. I realized that I had taken music, the experience of live music and my ability to hear any kind of music performed live totally for granted. Why is hearing live music important? Because it is not just about hearing it. You cannot sit in Centennial Hall, Budweiser Gardens or Aeolian Hall or the grandstand in Unionville, or the high school gym or St. Paul’s Cathedral or the Brunswick when it was still standing or anywhere else where live music is being played and simply hear the music. No. You feel the music. You feel the music not just through your ears or the pores of your skin, you feel it in your soul. Live music connects you with the seat you are sitting on to the musician’s hand on their bow, to the stranger sitting beside you to the heart beating in the chest of every person around you. Invisible connecting threads that strengthen every time a note is performed. That is what builds friendships, families and the community. Music keeps us strong.
Note: I was inspired by a friend of mine, Christine Newland, to write about why live music is important to me. A short time ago she shared an article written by Gilbert Galindo on the Importance of Music in Our Society. As I started writing this afternoon, I realized I had more to say on the topic than I realized. This is the first of a three part series on Music, my relationship with it and why I believe music plays an important part in our community, from the social impact, economic benefits and personal connection to different genres. Stay tuned!