Saturday, July 22, 2006

Musical Heritage Passed Down

PIANO MAN -- Clay Aiken is all over the grand piano in Amazing_CA's blend
of these Jukebox Tour photos by Tasapio.

Grand Old Upright Piano

Musical Heritage Passed Down

Some of my most memorable moments as a young girl were twirling around on a piano stool and learning to play the grand old upright whose tradition in our family dated back to my mother's childhood, as well as the previous generation of my grandmother and her six siblings. Oh, the stories that piano could tell!

Until the Chapman clan moved into town, the children were educated at their home in Pitt County by a teacher their Papa hired. Not only did this person instruct them in the three "R's," but she also taught them piano. My Great Aunt Lill informed Papa she knew more than the teacher, so he promptly sent her to Atlantic Christian College (now Barton) to study.

The family eventually moved into Grifton where there were public schools, but lessons continued on our family's grand old upright, producing several outstanding musicians -- including my grandmother, Aunt Lill, my mother, and her sister, Aunt Gladys.

Upon graduation at age 20, Aunt Lill began instructing piano at ACC and eventually taught multiple generations of students in her home studio in Wilson for the next 69 years. Later, when I started my own piano class, she was an exceptionally helpful source. We exchanged several informative letters, teaching techniques, and methods.

In our home in Wilmington, money was tight; so I only received about one year's worth of piano lessons. My sister was only interested in the flute, and my brother chose other instruments, too. Prior to the year of lessons, I had utilized my treble clef knowledge from clarinet studies in the school band and quizzed my mother enough to figure out the bass clef on my own. Hymnals and a stack of her old Etude magazines were my training ground; so when I actually took piano, I didn't fit the beginner mold. The teacher finally started me somewhere in Book 2.

From Day 1, I loved sight-reading new music more than the repetitive practice required to polish pieces for lessons and recitals. Even after the instruction stopped, I kept reading through those Etude books of classics and anything I could get my hands on. A side benefit was that I was often relieved of evening dishwashing duties because I was "practicing." I, of course, have passed this hint on to my students.

Sightreading Every Sunday

My knack for sightreading came in very handy when, during my high school years, I accompanied the Sanctuary Men's Sunday School Class at our church. The song leader, who just happened to be the mayor of Wilmington, picked any hymn in the book and took a number of requests from the class every Sunday. I became really adept at transposing hymns with too many sharps to their parallel flat key (i.e., E with four sharps to Eb with three flats). Those dear men sent me to college with a portable typewriter that I used for years.

I started college planning to emphasize English and journalism, but instead "lived" in the music department performing in various ensembles. As a sophomore, I changed my major to instrumental music and was thrilled to learn this included a piano requirement. Once again, the professors had a time fitting me into the curriculum because my abilities and deficiencies did not match their mold. I was soon making up for lost time in the scale and arpeggio department while playing the same literature as many of the piano majors.

PHOTO INTERMISSION: This clickable interlude incorporates current blends from the AI5 Finale, the Canes game, and NANA, as well as photo memories from the Jukebox Tour. Featured are blends by Amazing_CA (1, 2, 4, 5) and A Beautiful Mind (3). Photos for the Jukebox blend were taken by Tasapio.

Piano Teaching and Motherhood

Mr. Caro and I taught band and orchestra in Texas prior to our move to Nashville in 1973. The stork located us almost immediately in Teneessee, and I turned to piano teaching as a means to supplement our income while raising our young daughter.

With neither keyboard lit nor pedagogy courses in my background, my sources were my experience plus Aunt Lill and several piano teaching friends who shared tips and techniques. I also spent several days at a local music store studying methods and devising my studio's course of study.

Like my Aunt Lill, I taught approximately 50 students a week -- some before school and some the minute they could get to my studio after the dismissal bell. Our house became a school bus stop for many.

By the time our daughter was 10, my afternoon teaching "assistant" was Button, her precocious poodle mix who loved nothing better than to hop up on the bench beside students in hopes that between passages she would receive a back rub. She often got her wish.

Through the years, my students have won lots of awards and top ratings. Almost all presented 10-piece programs for an adjudicator each spring. In an agreement between the Nashville Area Music Teachers and Davidson County, several also received high school credit for their lessons.

Daughter Finds Own Niche

The only student I never got anywhere with was my own daughter. We tried everything -- from having her walk out the front door and enter via the studio door just like other students to calling me "Mrs. B" instead of Mom. Fortunately, she later found her musical niche with the cello.

Regarding the dreaded word "practice," I have had some very ingenious students. "The dog ate my music ... My mom accidentally put my Mozart through the washing machine ... You'll never believe what happened this week ... " And on and on!

The manager of a music store when he wasn't drumming, Mr. Caro said not a day went by that he didn't hear these words: "I wish my mother had made me keep taking lessons." These regrets were usually expressed by a parent hoping to interest his/her own child in learning to play.

Following much light-hearted banter about his shortcomings with piano studies, Clay was presented a Piano Lesson Dropout shirt by Clayversity at an Atlanta Joyful Noise Concert in December 2004. The shirt, as well as the front and inside pages of a card designed by Sally888, are shown below. Reckon this t-shirt inspired Clay to perform "Love Me Tender" on the Jukebox Tour? I wonder what his encore will be!

One of the cutest little girls ever to sit on my piano bench had a habit that caught her teacher by surprise every single time. Invariably, when she made a mistake, her immediate response was, "Oh, SHHHHHHHHHHHH .... ugar!!!" I never did break her of that habit.

This blog no doubt was inspired by the week's continuing reflections about my mother. I am grateful for the musical heritage of my family and have enjoyed passing the joy on to my own child, as well as to many others.


Hotforclay said...

Nice to read your blog Caro! And I never knew about the t-shirt from clayversity! CUTE! I was actually at the 2 Atlanta JNT 2004 concerts! I was not a member of clayversity then. That was when my heart almost stopped pounding because I "thought" he looked at me! Heehee!

Vox Vixen said...

Thanks for sharing all your stories. You have a such a rich musical heritage and it is pleasure to read about all your experiences.

I love the story about the little girl at your piano. Why can I imagine Clay saying "Oh, SHHHHHHHHHHHH .... ugar!!!" in his sweet southern accent.