Toronto Zoo

Making Beautiful Music

I’m the only musically useless person in my family.

Both of my parents and all four of my brothers play at least two instruments, some of them many more. All of them except my father have at least some post-secondary training in music. All of them are still actively playing music, whether that be just at church on Sunday mornings, or in a band, or doing sound tech for concerts, or teaching in high school, or heading up one of the fastest growing music non-profits in the world (I’m not exaggerating).

Growing up, someone was always practising something. At any given time you could hear guitar, drum kit, piano, xylophone, violin, viola, flute, or saxophone, not to mention the bands that came to practice in whatever garage, basement, or attic space our current house could make available. My brothers played variously in jazz ensembles, school bands, a Jimi Hendrix cover band, an experimental metal band, city orchestras, theatre pit bands, an instrumental post-rock ensemble, and all kinds of “solo projects”. My mother and brothers have all also written music in genres ranging from classical to jazz, country to metal.

I, however, am musically useless.

My mother tried to teach me piano when I was small, but had to stop in order to save my life and her sanity. I was forced to play the clarinet in junior high, never actually producing a sound and passing only because of my mark in the vocal component (my parents made us dress up in matching outfits and sing at family reunions often enough that I can hold a tune). I tried to pick up first the guitar and then the bass guitar in high school, just to play with my brothers, but never advanced beyond the painfully slow and muddled basic chord stage.

So I gave up. I’ve sung in choirs and in church bands now and again. I’ve listened to lots of music (mostly instrumental jazz and metal, but also classical, blues, and folk). I’ve attended concerts, festivals, and cd launches for friends and family. But I haven’t tried playing an instrument in two decades.

All of which is to say that it’s not my children’s fault they’re not musical. They hear lots of music and I’d say a good variety (at least when their parents are running the play list), but except for my mother-in-law plunking away (badly, I’m afraid) on the piano, they don’t have anyone around to model playing an instrument for them.

We tried to get the oldest two piano lessons, but they never really got ahold of it. My middle guy went through a phase where he wanted to play the guitar, but after a few months of lessons his interest petered out. My eldest is being forced to learn the bass guitar in school, but his teacher says he won’t actually play it. Is any of this sounding familiar?

There is a chance, however, that my youngest may reverse the trend. He told us months ago that he wanted to play the drums. We humoured him, as we had humoured his brothers, fully expecting that the phase would pass. But so far, he’s still going strong. A friend of ours is giving him lessons, and he drums on everything with everything all the time.

For Christmas, we’re getting him a drum pad (all the drumming with a fraction of the noise), and I can now hope that our house will have at least a little of the music that filled my childhood home.