Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Harmony of Unity and Diversity: What (and How) My Grandmother Taught Me



I still play the violin. But once, I was a violinist. And yet, blessed by my grandmother’s early influence and later insistence, I am still a musician. Here’s what I mean, and how that happened.
I don’t remember when I first heard my grandmother perform. I believe it was sometime after she began taking me to recitals and concerts across southwestern Ohio. Frankly, I was occasionally bored at first, incapable of appreciating that a musical theme or refrain wasn’t just “repetitious.” But one afternoon in Cincinnati, I woke up to “the language.” The soloist played something by Fritz Kreisler and I heard it—not repetition, but reiteration and restatement, variations on a theme that drove it more deeply into my heart than anything before.
I wanted to be able to do that. Even more so once I watched my grandmother—the not-so-proficient cook, occasional Rummy partner, hostess of the first dozen or so Christmas Eves in my life—take out what would one day become my violin (then hers again, then mine again—another story, another time) and make those beautiful sounds.
Definitely Musicians
But she insisted: no violin lessons until I learned to play the piano. She bought our family a Kawai upright, and I began attending lessons with Virginia Vandervoort. (No, “attending lessons” is not the same as “studying” or “training.” But a stern admonition from my great-grandmother soon motivated a far greater diligence.)
I was eventually allowed to study and train on the violin, eventually playing with the Dayton Junior Philharmonic Orchestra. For a time I suspected that my grandmother’s acquaintances were more influential than my personal skills in securing that privilege. But then I entered contests, won prizes, and even performed in the “Command Performance” segment of a California Music Education Association festival. I really was a violinist.
Also Musicians
But it was the piano that first made me hear the harmonies. Trios, quartets, and orchestras became far more comprehensible, especially once I studied music theory and composition. I can hear a page of music, just as you can hear these written words. Thanks to professors at SF State, I can even sight-sing just about anything you put in front of me.
Still Musicians
So, currently, I remain a vocalist who plays piano and violin. I play at the guitar and, when necessary, several other stringed instruments. I have never successfully caused music with a brass or woodwind instrument, which adds to my appreciation for those who do. Still, I allow only begrudgingly that among “those people who hang out with the musicians” (i.e., percussionists), there actually may, theoretically, be some musicians.
Arguably, Musician-ish
While I resonate best with pianists, violinists, and vocalists, I also enjoy solidarity with everyone who understands “the language.” We can discuss styles, techniques, genres, performers, composers, and conductors, throwing around esoteric jargon that can bring tears to our eyes—while others simply roll theirs. We see a page of music, and we hear what it says. We listen to multiple recordings by different orchestras, and even the same orchestra under different conductors, and critique their interpretive choices, and argue over which is “correct.” But at the end of the day, we’re all still musicians.
Among the Simpler Source Texts
I could go on. But I hope that I have made two points.
First, that once you learn “the language,” there is no end to the depth and breadth of all its blessings. And second, whereas my grandmother took me to recitals and concerts, maybe yours took you to church. Either way, I hope you’ve experienced the same harmony of unity and diversity.

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