Monday, April 24, 2017

Genetic mysteries

I came from what is sometimes called a "musical family". We weren't exactly the von Trapps, but my father was choir leader of our church (putting on such ambitious productions as Handel's Messiah), and both parents were deeply involved in Gilbert and Sullivan light operas. My father played violin decently, though I don't think he ever left first position. My mother was so indoctrinated with musical expectation that she often expressed shame that she did not know how to play the piano. It somehow would have made everything so much better.

So when WE came along, of course, it was the same thing, except that the pressure was far worse. The expectation wasn't just competence or even excellence, but a world-class career. Joy had nothing to do with it. I'd say we had a moderate amount of talent. My sister had a warm mezzo voice which might have taken her to a career if she hadn't early-on wrecked her life. My brother Arthur was a talented flautist and guitarist, and also a schizophrenic, who ended up panhandling on the streets of Toronto (not to mention prostituting himself) before he died in a fire.

My brother Walt was the only one to actually apply his talent, teaching and playing oboe in an orchestra in the Okanagan. Not exactly the big time, and he had to supplement his income with being an accountant on the side (work he claimed to prefer). His two daughters ended up as professional string players, an interesting development (their mother being an orchestral musician).

Then there was me, so bad at the piano that my teacher came to my mother and said, "This child is unteachable". Since no one else in the family would touch the violin, I was "it" and was just dismal at it. It was only much later that I discovered or uncovered a voice that had been totally buried by my sister's histrionics. I was afraid to open my mouth before that.

(Strangely enough, at age 40, I had the mad desire to take another crack at the violin, and I did. I found a magnificent teacher and played for nine years, including a lot of public performing. What does this mean? I am not sure, but I wanted to take the instrument back and approach it on my own terms.) 

My kids came along early in my life, and not only did they show no signs of musical talent in any area, they were completely disdainful of it. I remember they called Pavarotti "Pavarotten". They excelled in sports - were champions, in fact, which baffled and surprised and delighted Bill and I. We were both hopeless klutzes and literally dropped the ball.

But then. . .

A lo-o-o-ng time later came my grandkids, and I sensed musicality in all of them right from the start. They have sung in choirs, played instruments in bands, and, most of all, danced - every kind of dance from ballet to jazz to tap to hip-hop, a discipline which demands being one with all types of music. All three grandgirls have excelled at it. Two of them are off in Vernon winning trophies at a competition even as we speak. (One grandgirl has no hearing on one side, demanding extreme listening skills and a focus that simply amazes me.)

And look at Ryan, adorable, his instrument a foot longer than he is! He caught his hand in the slide one day, an excruciating thing that demanded a trip to Emergency, but he went right back at it as soon as he was healed.

So what am I getting at? I was amazed at my kids and their ability to master any sport, the trophies crowding the bookshelves in their rooms. If any part of it was genetic, it must have been several generations back. But the music thing was there - at least on one side. Did it leap over the barrier, or is this just serendipity? I don't know, but it's gratifying to see .

And of course, it just hit me that dance requires athleticism as well as musical knowledge. The alchemy of genetics never ceases to amaze me.

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