Life Story Lessons on Music & Art

I started taking piano lessons when I was in the third grade. Once a week for the next 6 years I would walk two blocks to Mrs. Mcleods house. She started my lessons out in the very boring John W. Schaum course books, and then after a time added books on cords.

The entire time I took lessons I really don’t ever recall playing a song I recognized. The only positive thing I remember about those years was her comment that I had perfect pitch and then her criticism that I relied to much on playing from memory. She had figured out somehow from her kitchen hideout that when I came for lessons and played the prior weeks songs that I had them memorized and didn’t bother looking at the music and sometimes added in some things. I should have figured out a lot sooner that she was not really a good teacher.

Once a year we would have a concert and go to various local churches and public buildings where I would get up and play very boring dull pieces in front of a lot of people. I usually did so with no errors and was told I did fine but then I never liked the music I played.

My own conclusion about this experience has changed several times as I have thought back about it over the years. I didn’t take long to resent the teacher who wasted my time.

Rather than give up on the idea that I was not musically talented when I was in the sixth grade, I decided to take band. I was excited to play the saxophone and knew what kind of music I wanted to play but the band teacher told my parents that I should play the trombone because my lips were too big for the saxophone. This clearly seems like poor advice from another poor teacher.

I stuck with the trombone for two years but again found the sound of the instrument and the music boring. Marching band did not appeal to me and I thought I looked dumb in the band uniform.

The seventh grade was a time of music overload. I was taking the piano lessons and practicing every morning. I was taking trombone lessons every two weeks and playing in the band. One morning as I was practicing my mother was sitting by me and pressing me to play more than I wanted to. Perhaps I was upset over that but it was probably just me being me because that day in school I was talking with someone in class because I had nothing to do and the teaching told me to stop it and I told her “she made me sick”. With that I was sent to the principal’s office and then expelled and sent home.

The good news part of this story is that two guys from the class came to my house that night and told my parents that the teacher was mean and that I had been right to have said what I did. Both guys became new friends and really were two of the better friends I had for many years. 

The next day my parents and I returned to the school and I apologized. That got me back in.

My mother thought maybe the piano practice that morning had been a point o stress and I could see an opening so I just told her that the piano teacher was a waste and reminded her that I had never liked the music or being taught from the kitchen.  She suggested a new teacher we had heard about that taught modern music but I just jumped on the chance to quit.

Also in the seventh grade I decided to take art as well as band. I knew I was not very good at drawing things, but I loved the idea of art. I knew I was able to feel the influence of good music and had some similar strong feelings about good art.

I thought that this might be a better experience than music had been because the art teacher, Mr. Lampson, was well known for his strong feelings about art and it was his passion that attracted me. I still remember how on the first day of class he explained how when he heard someone say,  , “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”, that he just wanted to scream because he took it very personally and felt offended. He said it wasn’t really our decision if “Art was art”, adding that, "We don't inform art, that art informs us". He didn’t bother to tell us at the time that this quote was from Leonardo da Vinci.

I didn’t get much personal attention from Mr. Lambson and it was obvious that he was only interested in the talented students, but he did get me thinking, and over the years many things I learned told me that Mr. Lampson was right. Art does have its own role and purpose, but the question of whether art reflects the artist’s feelings, or if art created those feelings, is still unclear. Maybe it is both?

Year later still thinking about this question I found in Oscar Wilde’s1889 essay, "The Decay of Lying",  that: “Life imitates Art, more than Art imitates Life, and what is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists taught people to find there, through art”.

Mr. Lampson also showed us how a lump of clay, spinning on a pottery wheel, grasped by an artist’s hands changed into what he imagined the clay to be and said that the clay itself informed the artist through the feelings it brought. I guess Mr. Lampson borrowed his message to us about pottery from Michelangelo where he told us that “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” It would be easy to just conclude from my life experiences that because I had music teachers that did more harm than good and an art teacher that didn’t have the time for me because my drawings were so poor that I must not have any talent in these areas.

Well it is my own choose how I feel about my own past experiences and both teachers were wrong in who they I was.

Louis Armstrong was a musical force and innovator as a trumpeter, singer and an entertainer. He didn’t have to deal with poor schoolteachers because he dropped out at 11 and had rough years ahead of him. His mother didn’t have an inspiring occupation and later he said of himself, that he hardly looked back at his youth as the worst of times but drew inspiration from those times instead. He said that "Every time I close my eyes blowing that trumpet of mine—I look right in the heart of good old New Orleans... It has given me something to live for.”

What we have a passion for matters and what matters to us is our own chose. Musicians, artists, writers, and ever readers don’t retire, as long as they have music in them.