A Life of Music

  • Piano
  • Organ
  • Flute
  • Guitar
  • Ukelele
  • Banjo
  • Piano-lesson teacher
  • Church organist
  • Country-Western band keyboardist
  • Public school music teacher, kindergarten through college
Some of my piano music

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother singing cowboy songs to me. She had worked at a dude ranch in college and fancied herself a real cowpoke. She also was a member of a Sweet Adeline quartet that practiced faithfully every week and performed publicly. So I was exposed to music everyday, beginning the day I was born.

I started piano lessons when I was seven. My three siblings also took lessons but I am the only one to whom they “stuck.” I discovered early on that if I told my mother right after supper that I was going to practice my piano, I wouldn’t have to do the dishes. Consequently, I got in a lot of quality practicing on the piano and not much practicing in the dishwater. By fourth grade I was accompanying my elementary school classmates whenever we had music class. None of my teachers seemed to be able to play the piano, so I felt appreciated early on. I tootled away while the teacher rode herd.

In ninth grade I bought a used guitar from my history teacher. A guitar really helps a person develop a sense of theory behind what she does naturally, to understand why something works or doesn’t work in a given situation. I continued playing guitar through high school until someone sat on my guitar and broke it. For high school graduation my parents gave me a much nicer guitar which I still have and play. In fifth grade I begin learning to play the flute. I really really wanted to be a trombonist, but the band director said my embouchure wouldn’t work for a trombone. He was obviously referring to the fact that I needed braces so he was right in that opinion. I didn’t want to play the flute because they were so quiet and prissy. I wanted to make a lot of noise. The only reason I later appreciated playing the flute was that it was easy to carry to and from school. Oh, and that I could play it in church or weddings on a moment’s notice. No need to get my lip back in shape, as a brass player needs to do.

In my junior year I went to Girls State, which is a week-long experiment in government for 800 girls from across the state. I ran for a state-wide office, and campaigned with a silly song which I accompanied with a ukelele. I won the election in a landslide!

My senior year my friend Bob and I won the annual talent show with a musical duet. He played the guitar while I improvised a song on my flute. I never used a lyre in marching band, which is the thing that hold your music in front of your face while marching. It was very easy for me to just hear how my part should go. It was around this time that I realized I might have some special talent in music. Everything was easy for me: transposing, improvising, sight-reading, composing, performing, arranging.

I had swapped out my piano lessons for organ lessons with the organ teacher at the local college, and soon I was off to St. Olaf College to be a music major. Three things in the music department led me to revisit that decision. First, I found the music majors to be notoriously haughty and cliqued. I didn’t want to be like that. Secondly, I remember my music theory teacher asking the class, “Which sounds better, this chord or this chord?” I raised my hand and told him which I thought sounded better, and he said , “No, no! This one sounds better.” Whatever the reason musically, I didn’t appreciate someone telling me my opinion was wrong. But the most important factor behind my decision to drop out of the music program was this: the band and the softball team practiced at the exact same time and I couldn’t NOT play softball in the spring! So I dropped band, which ultimately led me to switch majors. I went through an English major phase, a philosophy major phase, and by the time I got to my senior year, the only major I had enough credits in was physical education, as I had been participating in sports throughout my college years. So I graduated from a so-called music school with a degree in PE.

After I was married I went to Iowa State and got my bachelor of music degree in music composition. My plan was to stay home and write music while taking care of babies. You can imagine how well that worked! At this time I was also in a country western band. We played at weddings and in bars, but the late hours on a Saturday night followed by early hours on a Sunday morning didn’t go so well for me.

When the babies finally got in school I began teaching music. Later I got my masters in music. I had always said my dream job would be as a band director and coach simultaneously. I ended up getting that dream job, but only then realized that there are not enough hours in the day to do both, as both require a lot of time outside the normal work day. I gave up coaching, and I am glad in retrospect it was not the other way around.

I started playing the organ in seventh grade for two church services each Sunday. I have continued the habit for fifty-six years and counting. I also frequently play for weddings and funerals, and give piano lessons on and off. This year I taught ukelele to 120 K-8 students as a visiting musician.

I am always interested in learning new instruments. Besides piano, organ, guitar, and flute, I can play the trumpet, the trombone, the recorder, and the banjo. I requested a set of bagpipes for Christmas. I was the star entertainment of the holidays.

On a slightly more serious note, I have recorded three CDs in my living room to give away to friends. One is of my favorite songs of all time, most of them folk songs from my youth. The second was a commissioned CD of HER favorite songs. The third features Christmas music. All the pieces on these CDs were arranged by me. If you are interested in procuring one, just let me know.

I am blessed to have music such a huge part of my life, as it gives me great pleasure, both to listen and to play. I express myself on the keyboard in ways I can’t verbally. The piano is often my solace and my friend. A beautiful shiny baby grand piano graces our living room and tempts me every time I walk by. I can easily play by ear and can also sight read well, which is a double talent that many musicians envy. With a major in music composition, I am also quite comfortable writing music down on paper. I feel very appreciated at my churches and in my home. My husband will stop what he’s doing and listen to my music anytime. I have my mother to thank for getting me started on the track that would eventually define my life.

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