(31) Stick That In Your Pipe
Updated: Apr 10
Before starting it, I would have predicted that I would be happy for my Snippet Challenge to be at an end. With so much time spent travelling, so many visitors and days spent as guests, it has not always been easy to find time and private places to record. But I would have been wrong.
I am thinking now that I might try to keep this up. Depending on where you read it, it takes between 18 and 254 days of repeated behaviour to form a habit, or to break an existing one. And, of course, it depends on the person, the circumstances and what they are trying to change. I had the figure 21 in my head and so looked it up to see if it should be there. Sure enough, it was Dr Maltz, a plastic surgeon in the 50s, who came up with that figure, after finding that his patients stopped noticing their new nose or their missing limb after 21 days. In fact what Dr Maltz stated was that it takes at least 21 days to adjust. Subsequent studies have found this caveat to be crucial and that on average it takes 66 days (at least).
If it has not yet become my habit, writing a snippet of music every day for 31 days has certainly unlocked something - I often wake up now with a new tune, or one arrives after a conversation. I often take the phone to the toilet at night to record a couple of lines discretely before they disappear.
This has been an incredibly enjoyable thing to do and I think it shows that anybody can write music at some level. And this is one of the most well kept secrets on the planet. I have looked up Google to see what is being said about the ability to compose and, as with everything else, opinion varies. Overall though, it is suggested that at least some musicality is inherited. Both my parents were told to sing more quietly in their respective classrooms, so it is maybe thanks to my Mum`s Dad`s family that I fair better. At least one of her cousins played the piano and certainly there were some singers.
I am reminded of my great auntie, my mum`s Aunt Edith. who was a dancing teacher, well known in the dancing community across Scotland. She would often stand listening to music with her hands forming dance steps for young feet. She travelled abroad many times to America and Canada to judge Highland Dancing and she received an MBE for charitable services throughout her life. Her charitable services, however, did not extend to her family. A hoarder of costumes and chocolates, perfumes and powders, she rarely, if ever, offered anybody in her family any of it, preferring instead that the talcolm go fousty, the chocolates mouldy. She also was disinterested in hearing about our lives unless it involved dancing. I, therefore, was somewhat favoured. I was not offered chocolates but I was allowed to tag along to her classes whenever we were staying in Aberdeen. She practically lived at her dance studios and, to be fair, was indeed a good dancing teacher. She did also raise much money for various charities in Aberdeen.
`You will never be able to read music!` she warned me, `If you play by ear.` I stopped playing by ear at the age of 13, and learned to read notes for the keyboard. I hit a block, though, with the left hand. The notes notes just wouldn't work and I struggled until my mum asked a friend to give me a few piano lessons. This rescuer of my left hand on the piano, I discovered later, was the mother of Ian`s best friend. David continues to be one of my best loved friends. I get a certain amount of pleasure when life plays itself out in a Celtic knot, linking us to one another. Ever since learning that the left hand stave has a ‘G’ where on the right there is an ‘E”, I have greatly enjoyed playing. I feel strongly that more should be made of music at school. While it is part of the curriculum, I know that many teachers avoid it wherever they can. And certainly it is one of the first subjects to be left out of weeks where school trips happen, or visitors arrive, or something else takes longer than planned. Which is, to be honest, most weeks. Having taught younger classes music weekly or, at times, in daily small doses, I know without a doubt that it helps with language and maths - at the simplest level, clapping and copying different rhythms helps with identifying patterns and differentiating between syllables.
Then there are so many other benefits. Doing music can also help you rote learn other things at the same time. Music decreases stress. Singing boosts the immune system, as does playing an instrument. Listening to relaxing music before you settle significantly improves sleep. Studies show that children`s verbal intelligence improves with just a few lessons in rhythm and pitch. And then there is the obvious one that music improves mental health. ( https://liveforlivemusic.com/features/10-positive-benefits-of-listening-to-music-according-to-science/ ) Music is all round bloody good for you.
Who in the world doesn’t know that singing along to music in the car is good for you? And singing along with others is incredibly uplifting. I have only recently rediscovered this. I loved singing at the church until I was 19 and then realised that it was the singing that I liked (along with the peace, the dimmed lights, the stained glass, the warmth of the people - the Baptist church is particularly warm and friendly, and nobody is in competition with anybody else to do better flower arranging ). Having identified that this was the case and that it was music, not God, that I went there for, I stopped going. Ironically that is round about the time that I more or less stopped singing, for about 23 years. Apart from occasionally in the car on my own and at family shows with Ian`s nieces, in Granny Margaret`s garden, while the audience had gin and tonic and sherry. And, as a teacher, I have never minded singing in front of children.
It is really easy to put someone off singing. I have been accused of being too sensitive, and maybe that is part of it. But I think most of us are sensitive about singing. After all, you are baring a bit of yourself that is normally not exposed. I do know of someone who was told by his mother as a child that he really couldn`t sing. He went through a couple of decades believing this and he was told that many times. Indeed he always sang a kind of dirge, regardless of the song. One day he surprised everybody during a round of happy birthday, and was asked about this new singing voice. He explained that a colleague of his was also a music therapist, who had said that everybody could learn to sing and had given him a few exercises. What a difference! I believe he would have continued to try had his mother not exclaimed a few weeks afterwards, `Who told you you could sing?!!`
I continued to heed Aunt Edith's words and by the time I did my Higher Music, I also had a complete block about playing without the sheet music. I was absolutely dependent on it and whenever anybody asked me to play something adhoc, I could not. I remained unable to play without script until three and a half years ago.
It was actually Isabelle`s ex, a musician, who gave me some crucial tips on playing the piano using chord patterns rather than a written score. More evidence of life`s Celtic Knot. Now, although we re not on speaking terms (and I asked for that), whenever I compose something myself and play it without putting it down on paper, I mentally thank him. I will always be grateful for this shared knowledge. And when I take my piano music bits and actually put the notes onto their staves, I also always wave a two fingered gesture to Great Auntie Edith.
The best thing about doing this challenge is I now have at least five piano snippets that I want to to develop. This 30 second limit (give or take a few) has helped to get over the hurdle of completing a whole piece and concentrate instead on finding the main theme. Granny Margaret shall have her waltz, heavy in parts, capricious in others. The kite shall have its wilful accelerating and slowing down. And the fisherman shall have his lullabye.
I am going to continue my Snippet making and and try to form a habit of it. I have done three since the Snippet Challenge ended. The first was a kind of harmony on the potty song I did earlier in the month (Oh yes....) There is something very cheerful about major chords on a ukulele. Even more so in the front of a car, with the sun shining. The second PSCS (Post Snippet Challenge Snippet) was a sad one for Boris. I really don’t know what else to say and I really don`t see that I could have given him more major (happier) chords.
I have now written a snippet's worth of piano pieces for quite a few people. What do you think of that Auntie Edith? And while I ask that question I am going to confess that when we were little, all three under the age of twelve, we were in the piano room in Aberdeen and we freed some of your massive horde. We took a little bell, a paper fan and some mouldy chocolates. And then we sang about them all the way home. As Ian`s dad might have said, of the piano playing, not the pilfering - Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.