The Music of my Farm
When I was 8 years old a friend of my moms gave us a used upright piano. It had been owned by a local church for ages and they were replacing it with a new one. Every attempt to sell it had failed, so one day it showed up at our door. It was old, showing signs of age and hard use. The keys were yellow and some were cracked and chipped. The tuning was off and some key pads were so worn down they barely made a sound when the key was struck. But never wanting to pass up a free deal, no matter how battered or unwanted, my mom let the beast into our home.
Our house was full; three active kids under the age of 10, pets running around, toys, activities, and school projects took up almost every inch of available space, but mom was not deterred.
The only place this monster would fit was the rarely used dining room; no matter that every time we walked through the kitchen door it would bang the side of the piano, adding to its ragged state and damaging the door.
After the delivery men left we three just stood looking at this old wooden box with its broken keys and warped sound, wondering what the hell mom was thinking. Little did we know mom had a plan, one that would be revealed to us just before school let out for the summer.
Without informing anyone, mom had enrolled all of us in piano lessons with a friend she had met through our school. Twice a week for the…entire…summer…break…she would drive us to the other end of town to sit through the torturous lessons of learning to play the piano. At home, between lessons, we had to practice 30-minutes every day. While our friends headed out to the local pool for a swim or went to the movies or walked to the 5 and Dime for a mid-day treat we practiced scales—over and over until our backs ached and we couldn’t stand the hideous noise any more.
This was my introduction to playing a musical instrument.
Don’t get me wrong, we were not an uncultured, unmusical family by any means. Mom played the violin, even teaching violin when she was an elementary school teacher and dad played trumpet at clubs during the Big Band era. There was always a record or radio playing in our house. We went to local concerts performed by amateur musicians and the local community theater always put on a few musicals every season. But, this flat, sharp, muffled, grotesques noise we made could never be construed as music.
It was disheartening to work so hard yet make such a horrible sound. My moms intentions were good—to elevate her children’s education by teaching them to play an instrument. In her mind this was what sophisticated families did. Unfortunately, she never bothered to ask her children if they wanted to play an instrument or, at the very least, did they have a preference as to what type of instrument.
My older brother was the first to rebel, refusing to waste his summer vacation tied to this torture box; followed shortly after by myself and then by sis. Before our summer break was over, all three of us had refused to take part in anymore piano lessons. Mom lost the battle.
The old wooden box that was never tuned, could not play notes properly, would remain in our dining room for another 20 years, never to be played again. Its sole purpose now was to hold used music books in its seat and to showcase dozens of trinkets like some kind of open-air curio cabinet.
As time went by and I became older, and somewhat wiser, I regretted never learning to play any instrument. But, my interest in homesteading and a more simple life led me to discover the soft, warm, melodic sounds of mountain music. It was entrancing, sweet, heart felt and honest. I was enraptured by the music and the instruments that made it. It became my music of choice in the barn or in the garden. It immersed me in this life I was beginning to live.
Late last night there was a knock at my door. I couldn’t fathom who it might be. When I opened the door there stood a UPS delivery man dressed in the standard brown uniform. Under his arm was a long brown box. After signing on the dotted line, or in this age the little electronic thingy, I anxiously brought the box inside and set it on the coffee table. I was like a giddy child on Christmas morning because I knew exactly what was in the box…a hand hewn, hand stained, hand polished mountain dulcimer. I’ve wanted one for ages and in a fit of retail therapy I bought one off of Amazon.
Oh, it’s not one of the beautiful pieces of art lovingly made in the hills of Tennessee or North Carolina, but this beginner’s version, mass produced in Romania, is the perfect inexpensive model to begin my new season of music. So, after decades of not holding a musical instrument in my hands I’m beginning to learn the dulcimer. I found a local bluegrass group that holds jams every week. Players of all levels are welcome to come listen, learn and connect with avid mountain and bluegrass musicians. It will be a slow process I know, fraught with ups and downs, but I had a nice start last night learning to properly strum from a YouTube video. I feel good about my choice and I’m excited to be entering a new chapter of my bigger farm life.
Farming and mountain music. Is there a better combination?
Wish me luck!