Music in my early childhood
I don't come from a particularly musical family. My mother played flute in high school and into college but never had dedicated lessons and wasn't playing at all by the time I was around. My father gave up singing and trumpet in high school in favor of athletics, and he says that he wasn't especially talented in music anyway though he enjoys it. Still, I had some unique and encouraging musical experiences as a child.
My mother was enthusiastic about all sorts of ethnic music from around the world. Though she wasn't especially involved in music, the simple diversity of music I was exposed to was great. I attended gamelan concerts at the University of Michigan, was taken along when she attended eastern European folk dances, and I heard a wonderful range of recordings. I didn't fully appreciate the uniqueness of my musical exposure until decades later. When our record player broke, we finally decided to get rid of our vinyl records; and when I brought them to the used record shop, the staff were thrilled and said that many of our records were very obscure. They included African traditional recordings, Japanese koto music, and many others. But the shop couldn't buy any of them because they were all too worn out from lots of playing. I realize today that my upbringing did not match the typical music experience for an American kid in the 1980's.
Like many children, I loved to sing and make up my own songs. I also learned to sing along with pop and "oldies" songs on the radio, and, even at a young age. I don't know how accurate I actually was, but I felt that I could sing most songs flawlessly, matching the pitch and timing of the recordings. At some point I decided, for some rebellious reason, that I didn't like the music my father was into: The Doors, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan... but a couple years later, I found myself admitting that it actually was very good. Today, I think highly of that music. It is sometimes hard to objectively consider music outside of judging its cultural context and those who like it. Like many friends in elementary school, I said I didn't like country music, though I now acknowledge that country music, like any style, has a examples of both high and low quality and examples of both both virtuous and offensive values.
In elementary school, I memorized (not through conscious effort) the entire contents of the blue and red Beatles' greatest hits collections. This association was so strong that I remember once feeling shocked upon hearing one of those songs not being followed immediately by what was I knew was next on those specific albums. Strong expectations of these norms did not, however, lead me to think that the norm was the only possibility. Creativity was always a part of my thinking. A friend and I created a medley of Beatles songs that included every track from those albums arranged with grammatical elisions (e.g. "...she told me what to say, she said / the fool on the hill sees / all the lonely people..." etc.). I don't remember our Beatles medley today, but I used the same idea ten years later to arrange a medley of all the songs my high school choir sang in my senior year; and that performance was a highlight of our end-of-the-year choir banquet.
Starting music lessons
When I was very young, we had a cheap upright piano before getting rid of it to make more space when my elderly grandmother moved in. I played around on the piano a little, but nobody in my family actually played it. Later, when I was around six years old, I got a cheap digital keyboard. I was first really inspired to play when I heard a friend perform his original compositions. I didn't just want to play, I loved the idea of writing my own music.
At eight years old, after some short experiences with uninspiring piano lessons, I started studying with Steve "Oz" Osburn, a talented classical guitarist and creative musician. His teaching philosophy relates to Montessori concepts of student self-direction and exploration. He encouraged me to compose and explore. I started studying both keyboard and guitar in short every-other-week lessons, though it proved to be impractical to fit in both in such limited time. After a break for a year or so, I returned to lessons to focus exclusively on classical guitar.
I really have always liked classical guitar music, but I liked rock and blues and other styles as well. I learned a decent amount of popular guitar techniques in the course of my lessons, but I rejected any temptation to play electric rock guitar. In hindsight, I think I was really turned off by the attitudes I perceived in the rock guitar world. Some of my peers who wanted to be rock guitarists seemed not as interested in music as in being cool or awesome or popular. I didn't want to have anything to do with such shallow egotism (To be clear, I didn't like pompous attitudes surrounding classical music either, but I didn't see much of that in my experience of classical guitar). Of course, I've since realized that the musical styles don't necessarily have to be connected to those attitudes. Every music style has its share of people with more or less egotistical personalities. I've since become more comfortable with rock guitar.
In middle school and high school there was no place for guitar in the established music programs. I opted for the choir track, and stuck with it, including many extracurricular choral activities. I was lucky to attend schools with very highly rated programs, and I learned a lot.
Throughout all this time, I continued to explore creative approaches to music (and life in general), and this led to my first substantial original project, an album I titled Musical Shoelaces.
© Aaron Wolf