Music - early memories, Suzuki guitar, Vester SSC75 guitar, Bontempi Gamma 1450 keyboard

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Music: early memories

I remember that in my first year of school at ages 4 and 5 (Raynham Road in Edmonton) we had music sessions. Out came a supply of percussion instruments such as tambourines, triangles, castanets, etc. and we were each issued with something to bash. I don’t remember if we created a percussion-only sound or whether we were accompanied, perhaps, by a teacher on a piano. Anyway, I don’t remember excelling at this activity. Whether I had any music instruction in junior school is long forgotten; singing a hymn at the morning assembly is all I can remember. In high school I remember that music lessons involved only singing, something that I did not relish.

In 1951 or 1952, when I was 9 years old, my mother decided that my sister, Wendy, and I should have piano lessons. My mother had had piano lessons when she was a girl and we had a fine upright piano, a Berry, although up to that time I don’t remember anyone ever playing it. It had ashtrays that swung out from under the keyboard; probably a 1920’s design. Anyway, Wendy and I were sent to a local music teacher: I was taught by Miss Gwendolyn Coates, A.L.C.M. on a grand piano in her front parlour (I remember white busts of famous composers being situated around the room) while Wendy, being younger, was taught by my teacher’s mother upstairs on an upright piano. I guess my teacher was quite young although from my childhood vantage point, I remember her as being older. I used to cycle to my music lessons and I remember being told off for marking the paint when I leaned my bike against her house.

I received the usual classical training, being groomed for examinations at the London College of Music for which I travelled up to London with my mother. The London College of Music was situated at 47 Great Marlborough Street, an imposing building dating back to 1710, the sight of which was enough to turn my legs to jelly! Judging by my exam results, I seemed to get on well at first but did not do so well later on. I do remember hating my lessons and piano practice as I grew older; in my early teens, what I wanted to play was popular music but all I could actually play was Skaters’ Waltz and other classical pieces; the whole thing became am embarrassment to me when I was among friends. My mother had given me her crocodile-skin music case to carry my sheet music in and I felt really uncomfortable to be seen with it! Another embarrassment I remember was when my mother entered me in a variety show at an old people’s home. There I was on stage with a clunky old piano that had one of two keys that didn’t work. The audience thought it was the funniest thing but I was reduced to tears.

My mother insisted on daily practice but it was a fight and I remember that 10 minutes a day was all that could be agreed upon. She placed a clock on top of the piano; how slow the minute hand moved! Now, many years later, I think how tough it must have been for my teacher (and my mother!) with such slow progress and lack of interest on my part. Anyway, I somehow managed to progress and passed four examinations in theory and practice. At that time they were called Preparatory, Junior, Higher Junior and Primary. I see from my examination certificates that my teacher was progressing better than I was: on my first certificate she is shown as A.L.C.M (Associate of the London College Of Music); a year later she is shown as L.L.C.M. (Licentiate of the London College Of Music) and on my last two certificates she becomes L.L.C.M.(T.D) (Licentiate of the London College Of Music - Teacher’s Diploma). It’s interesting that she didn’t have her teacher’s diploma when she started teaching me.

In 1956, when I was 14, relief came. We moved house from Edmonton to Bush Hill Park and we didn’t take the piano with us; my piano days were over. The market was flooded with used pianos in those days and you couldn’t give them away. Although our piano was, in automobile terms “low mileage”, it went for scrap.

In the early 1960’s, guitars were all the range with young people. Someone gave me an acoustic guitar and I started to learn a few chords but I did not do well with it. I gave that guitar to Jacquie’s brother when we left England for Canada.

I picked up guitar playing again in 1973 when my wife, Jacquie, bought me a Suzuki Spanish guitar for Christmas. This time I took some lessons with a teacher at La Londe’s Music, a local store in Markham, Ontario, where we lived at that time. On the left is a picture of me playing the Suzuki guitar in 1975.

My last encounter with guitars occurred in 2008 when I bought a Vester SSC75 electric/acoustic guitar at a fundraiser in the Mahone Bay area where we are now located. The guitar attracted me because I had always wanted an electric guitar. Armed with my new guitar, I took lessons with a local teacher/performer, Paul Buchanan. On the right is a photo of me playing my Vester guitar in May 2009. I like the guitar but the steel strings are sure tougher on the fingertips than the nylon strings of my Spanish guitar!

Back to the piano (or at least the keyboard!)

We have leapt ahead on the subject of guitars but now we go back to my piano story. For many years I had retained an interest in the piano; whenever I encountered one I would take the opportunity to play a few notes or try to remember how to play a tune from my old lessons. By now I was thankful that my mother made me take those lessons! In 1983 I was becoming interested enough to think of buying a piano. Pianos were expensive, though, and I didn’t know if this would be a passing fad or whether I would stick with it this time. I decided to start with an electronic keyboard which was a much cheaper entry point. If I was still playing after a few months then I would consider buying a piano. So, in December, I bought a Bontempi Gamma 1450, an 88-key electronic keyboard. I bought it from The Music Stand, a music store in Markham and, since they also hosted music lessons, I signed up for those, too. I took lessons through to April 1984, concentrating on popular music like folk music and show tunes. On the left is a photo of me playing my Bontempi in 1984.


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