Music Education: Opportunities Missed and Taken

Cliff Yankovich

Young Cliff0022
Young Cliff.

The first part of this piece might be subtitled “Rebel Without a Clue” and has to do with the regrets that plague me for not capitalizing on a musical education that was right in my own house. My hope in sharing it is that some young person somewhere might read it and be motivated to take full advantage of a musical opportunity that might be staring he or she in the face. You there – Young Person with opportunity knocking at the door of your room: take a tip from someone who knows of which he speaks. Get on top of your emotions and think long term. Put aside your pride and hormones and jump on those music lessons or a chance to be mentored or tutored even if you have a hard time receiving the instruction. Do it in spite of every inclination you might have to prove a point or win one. You will thank me.

My mom was not only a classically trained pianist, but she taught music in schools and gave private piano lessons in our house. Anyone reading that sentence could reasonably conclude that yours truly would be an accomplished tickler of the ivories or, at the very least, proficient enough on the piano to handle a sing-a-long at a holiday party. HA! Don’t I wish.

Mom and I tried on many occasions to enter into a student/teacher relationship. Some of the efforts fizzled like a damp firework while others ended in a full on explosion. I was a teenager in rebellion – whoop de do! Tucson in the 70’s was a college town full of war protests – yes, I marched and wore a black bandanna to school in the 8th grade – cheap weed, and a host of other distractions to feed a young man who subscribed to the negative message we were fed about folks over 30. I won’t bore you with all the bad decisions The Little Rebel made, but suffice to say music lessons from mom were not going to happen.

self kicking machine
Self-kicking machine.

Anybody else remember the Wile E. Coyote self-kicking machine? Well, substitute the face of yours truly for the coyote. I have kicked myself way too many times over the missed opportunity to learn the piano. (We found this ancient drawing which no doubt inspired the Coyote…..)

One more slightly negative recollection and then we can move on to the upbeat close. When I was in my early 20’s I saved my pennies and bought a gently used Ludwig silver sparkle drum set. I installed it in the basement of a house I was renting at the time. Did I bother to enroll in a course of instruction? Did I at least buy a book and some cassette tapes to learn the rudiments? NAH. My method was way better. Every day or two I would go down in the basement and “practice”.

The main problem with that technique for me was that I wanted to sound like Kevin Ellman or Willie Wilcox after a couple hours of banging away. When the polyrhythmic proficiency of Mr. Neil Peart was not mine after a dedicated week or two of “practice,” I made the quality decision to sell the kit. I wanted a drive thru solution to something that takes time and effort.

Cue the happy music – roll back the clouds for some good news. Fast forward 20 some years from the sparkly Ludwig kit. Cliff in his late 40’s had another opportunity to release his inner Gene Krupa. I was trying to sell an old pick-up and then saw the light. I amended my Craigslist ad to read that I would take a drum set in trade for Zack – my old Ford.

Cliff kit
Cliff’s kit.

BINGO – whuddathunk? Young man wanted a winter beater for his wife and he had a black Ludwig kit collecting dust. (Hmmm, maybe he was repeating my story from above). Anyway – the happy message – it is NEVER too late to enjoy the benefits of keeping a beat or playing an instrument. Did I enroll in music school, no. However, being older and wiser I took a much more productive attitude toward my kit. I did utilize some online training for beginners and I ordered a DVD set covering the basics (still cannot master that whole two footed method for playing the bass drum.) I also lowered my expectations – a lesson learned from Dr. Harley, my therapist for several years. Will I ever stomp it like Neil with one time signature coming from my feet while my hands tap out another? Nah. Is Todd going to call me because Prairie Prince sprained his ankle and my services are needed ASAP? Nope.

However, daily drumming for fun and the sheer enjoyment of it is a wonderful thing. It gets extra wonderful when Hunter comes over and wants to make some noise with his grandpa. If his interest holds for another year or so, he is just 5, then we might have to pick up a kit for him. After reading the information from this blog and the Spirit of Harmony website, I also get a wee kick out of the fact that engaging with my kit is doing my aging brain some good as well. Win-win. Amen.

Todd n Cliff 2013 crop
Cliff Yankovich is a partner with his wife Julie Claire DeVoe at Chimera Design, a jewelry store in Lowell, Michigan since 2002 (www.ChimeraDesign.ws). A Todd Rundgren fan since 1972, Cliff is thrilled to be a part of the Spirit of Harmony Foundation. His observations and opinions can be found on his blog: www.cliffsriffs.blogspot.com.

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