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The Musician

December 16, 2009

Today’s entry is a special guest post from fellow blogger Harley May. Harley, a mother of three and a wife of one, contributed this delightful entry. I’ve had the pleasure of reading one of Harley’s short stories, and I can assure you that we’re looking at an extremely talented writer of nonfiction and fiction alike. You should follow Harley on Twitter and read her blog.

What makes a musician?

Practice, obviously. Most start when they’re young, but getting the young to practice isn’t easy. You really have to make them. When my oldest turned 5 he wanted to play the violin. Great, my husband and I thought, he’s excited; he’ll want to play and we will help him. My son is good, seems to have great musical aptitude, enjoys his lessons, and his performances. But practicing? He’d rather eat dirt, which he’d probably try once anyway. Forget the dirt eating, it doesn’t work.

I grew up in a very musically gifted family. We were missionaries in South Korea and my parent’s focus was on developing music for Korean churches. It was automatically assumed that my brother and I were also musically gifted when they heard what my parents did for a living. My brother, I agree, is. He plays many instruments and the majority of them he’s taught himself.

For the first 2 years in Korea, all my parents did was study Korean. To practice the combination of his Korean and music, my father entered a talent show that was televised. He was the only foreigner who performed and he won! Whatever monetary award there was, he donated to the mission but we kept the television and used it for years.

My mother started giving me piano lessons when I was 4, but we stopped somewhere around 8. If you put a sheet of music in front of me today I could probably stumble through it in a few hours, but honestly, there’s little fun in that.

At 12, I received my first instrument: a flute. I played for 6 years in the school orchestra and for my father at church. I can’t say that I wanted to play for the love of it, but for the grade in school and to please my father at home. The instant it was no longer required of me, I stopped. Music, without a doubt, has always been a huge part of my life and I love listening to it, but never quite had the joy of playing like the rest of my family.

Somewhere around the age of 13, a local department store hosted a singing competition for foreigners. My father wasn’t interested in doing another one and encouraged me to enter. Please don’t misunderstand my family to be weird stage parents, they weren’t, he just thought I’d do well if I entered.

I considered the idea and decided to give it ago. Singing wasn’t my strong suit, but I could carry a tune with the aid of a bucket. I was still girlish enough to have the cute factor in my favor. This might be my ticket to Korean pop culture stardom. After much preparation, the day of the competition arrived and I was ready to sing in Korean about the changing leaves of autumn. This probably wasn’t the best choice if pop stardom was my goal. Hindsight, leave me alone.

There were a handful of other contestants but only two stand out in my 13-year-old mind. The first was a trio of Mormon Missionaries: a young woman who played on the keyboard, a young man (who I thought was totally hot and spawned my love of guitarists) on guitar, and another woman on tambourine. They all sang and played beautifully.

The other contestant was a half-Korean woman who sang about a man in a yellow shirt while her husband stood on stage with her dressed in, you guessed it, a yellow shirt. Feel free to envision me covering the words “Cop Out” with a cough.

After we’d all sang and played the Korean judges had comments for us. They gave their comments in Korean but I will translate for you. This isn’t Memories of a Geisha where suddenly everyone speaks English.

For the Mormons, “You need work.” That’s all that was said.

For me, “You have good pronunciation.” Yes, that was it.

For the woman who grew up speaking Korean and simply had her husband up on stage for the minority vote, “You sang perfectly and are our winner!”

I’ll admit, I’m still quite bitter.

Wait, wait, the department store competition coordinators had a surprise for the contestants. There was a mystery prize for an honorable mention. Who should win this honorable mention? Little me. Jackpot thought my 13-year-old mind. What was this mystery prize? A small shopping spree? Gift Certificates? No, it came in an actual box! Man, what was this?

I opened my mystery prize at home with a gleam in my eyes to find a trashcan.

My father sings on a televised Korean game show, gets an explosion of confetti with streamers, a television, and a monetary prize and I get a lousy trashcan.

All this is to say that I don’t LOVE playing music like the rest of my family but will still make my son play his violin, for the experience and education if nothing else. I’m happy to keep my own musical experiences to rock concerts and my singing in the shower. The acoustics are always better in there.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2009 11:34 pm

    Great post. I’m totally going to run off and psychoanalyze this, for I’m obsessed with Harley’s delicious quirkiness. Fun guest post on a great blog. 🙂

  2. December 16, 2009 11:36 pm

    Thanks for pointing me here, Harley!

    This reminds me of when I was a year away from graduation, studying jazz trumpet with this guy out of Cinci. He told me, “I’d say you need two years. Two more years, and you’ll be bad!” Which gave me a choice: be a starving jazz artist for two years to the disapproval of my family or find a job that enabled me to eat.

    Sadly, I chose to eat. I kept playing off and on for the next few years, but nowadays the axe is gathering dust. But the love of music is still there, which it seems like it is for Harley. And short of making music herself, the next best way to keep the music alive is to pass it on!

  3. Harley permalink
    December 17, 2009 7:45 am

    I cannot thank Jamey enough for having me!

    Mercedes and Don, your comments are too kind and it’s always great to hear stories about other musicians. Don, I’m sure you were better than he was letting on. It would be fun to get a band together. You should know, I originally had this titled ‘Musical Idiot’ but Jamey didn’t think it fitting. 🙂

  4. December 17, 2009 9:03 am

    It took me about three decades of frustration to get my head off of the sheet music (I play viola, piano, and, more recently, have taken up the bass guitar) and into just listening and learning to play along (when playing with others) in the moment or just improvising for my own enjoyment. I am no better in craft or technique (well, I don’t practice for this so what would I expect?), but now I mostly enjoy making music AND listening to music.

  5. December 17, 2009 11:07 am

    As Harley notes here, she originally titled the piece “Musical Idiocy,” which I changed after reading it the first time. Harley may have a great story here, but she’s not musical idiot compared to me. I sing in church (in fact, I sing all the time), but I’m rather bad, and I can’t play any instrument. Or read music. I’m a little concerned that my brain missed out on some key synapse gaps because of my lack of musical background or understanding, but I’m hoping I made up for it in other ways (all of which were probably undone by me incorrectly heading the soccer ball when I was younger).

  6. December 29, 2009 7:26 pm

    Harley’s mother here. You definitely had the cute factor going for you. It didn’t hurt that you were a beautiful blonde. Loved it.

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