Navel Gaze of the Week

On Music

This is the third piece in (what is evidently) a short series on education. You can view the first post here and the second here.

This week I want to discuss music appreciation. Now, I don’t care if you like classical or country, rap or reggae. Music, like poetry, should move the spirit. Barring that, it should at the very least entertain the listener. So I’m not going to preach at you about what kind of music you “should” be listening to. That’s a matter of taste, and I will no more try to dictate yours than I would listen if you tried to dictate mine.

No, I want to write about playing music.

Lots of folks are plagued by memories of being dragged to piano or violin lessons when they were children. Others sought out a cheap guitar or a set of drums and tried to get a high school band going. But most of us, I think, have never done anything more than fiddle with an instrument once or twice.

In my own case, I gave a (brief) shot at learning the trumpet when I was a boy (somewhere around the second or third grade, I think). It was hard, I didn’t like it, and I gave up on it. When I was in junior high in Walla Walla,1 every student had to spend one trimester of the seventh grade in Choir. I loved it…but I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.2 And so I never experienced the joy of making music.

In an earlier age, just about every educated person was expected to know how to play an instrument; it was considered to be part of a well-rounded education (which is why this post fits in with the two referenced above). That isn’t really the case anymore. That it isn’t is a considerable relief to many parents that are already struggling to pay bills, many children who would rather do just about anything else, and a great loss to every adult–because they’ve missed out on learning to do something that might have made their lives richer.

Fortunately, it is never to late to take up an instrument. Why, a man could wait until he is in his late forties before suddenly deciding he wants to learn to play the violin. (And yes, I do mean me.3) There are some good practical reasons for doing so, too. This article lays out ten of them.

Now, much like when I wrote about the value of a liberal arts education, not all of us are in a position to pursue music as a hobby. Instruments are pricy, and lessons aren’t exactly cheap. If you have kids at home, you likely have neither the time nor the energy to invest an hour a day in practicing.

But if you do have the means, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you take up music as a hobby. Depending on what instrument you choose, you and another member of your family could learn on the same one, cutting relative costs by about half (still need to pay for more than what set of lessons). Student (or learner) instruments are cheaper than those for performers, and most music stores will finance the cost over time. My violin–a student instrument–ran me ~$450. I’m not saying that that was cheap, but it was much less costly than a medium-grade piece that could have run to a couple thousand.

And I love playing (however badly)!4 Just learning to read music was like discovering a foreign language. Plus, being a history buff, it’s been fascinating to me to learn about the development of western music over time. It’s even given me a (small) appreciation for some styles of music that I don’t much care for.5

So–whether the kids are grown and gone, you’re young and single and need a hobby, you have the benefit of having inherited vast wealth and need something to do besides racing cars and sharing cocaine binges with your buds, or just just want to start planning for the day you get a little ahead on time and money–please give a little thought to what you might like to learn to play. If the day comes that you can fulfill that ambition, I can guarantee it’ll be worth it.6

1 Every time I think about Walla Walla, Washington, I’m reminded of a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Bugs used the words as part of spell or some such. The thought still cracks me up.

2 Still can’t, really. Which is why, to the considerable relief of those who know me, I only sing in the shower.

3 Just don’t ask me to play for you. Trust me, I’m doing you a favor. Almost two years of study and I still sound like I’m torturing a cat every time I draw the bow. But I do love working at it.

4 My dogs are somewhat…less appreciative. I call my practice sessions “special puppy torture time.”

5 Rap. I’m talking about rap music. And my expanded appreciation is still minuscule. Nonetheless…

6 Said guarantee being valued at the exact cost you paid to view this free post. My generosity extends only as far as my opinions, save when the folks at the charity succeed in convincing me I have a few dollars to spare.


2 thoughts on “Navel Gaze of the Week”

  1. I didn’t know that about the trumpet or the choir. I always wanted to learn piano. Maybe someday. I think I was made to play the recorder in grade school but I have only the foggiest memory of it.

    1. I kind of enjoyed the singing…I just wasn’t particularly good at it. I have to get a bit drunk before subjecting people to it now, and with *my* alcohol tolerance that can take a while.

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