In between scat and Mary Poppins

As I first started being interested in jazz, I have to say it intimidated me. All those chords, those fake sheets, just knowing what to play without sightreading? I wasn’t used to it. As I teach my piano students, I see how the theory books emphasize chords from day 1.  The I chord, the IV, the V7. I wasn’t taught any of this when I was first learning. We didn’t have theory books back then. I’m sure people were learning this if they were playing jazz. But where I was being taught, it was only classical. So, when I had my first jazz lesson, many years later, my teacher said “not so much mary poppins. I’m looking for scat!” I had to look that word up, I didn’t know what it meant. I would learn it soon enough though, in my music theory and lit classes. And I would start singing like that to my classical pieces. Because, it’s an expression of your heart. And whatever music is playing, you’re going along with it, with nonsensical words, that embody the spirit of how the music makes you feel.  I started singing more. My voice had been lost many years ago, my vocal chords got strained. And I couldn’t sing in the choir anymore. But here I was singing anyway.  There is such joy in expressing yourself this way. Declaring to the world and to yourself, “I don’t know how to love him…” or “Trouble in mind, I’m blue…”  Or just

“Oooooooo, aaaaaaaaah,   ooooo ooooo, aaaaaaaaaah.”

Whatever comes out, whatever you feel.

As I began to play the classics again, something clicked this time. Inside of me. And I felt the beauty of the music. I know it’s not usually the favorite of the kids nowadays. Although some of them still really enjoy it, much to my surprise. But my journey took me away from it, and then back to it, when it really started to mean something for the first time. And I can feel the story being told in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Where the first movement seems to be so subdued, there’s all kinds of emotion, that seems like it’s under the surface waiting to be brought out. Then there’s the 1 page 2nd movement that sounds like a job interview, where you say all the right things. And then the comes the 3rd movement, with a rage, and a gusto that can only mean an honest utterance of a strong, unedited human emotion. And isn’t that what music is? An expression, an utterance, a beautiful long vowel, a scream, or a whisper. Whatever you feel. And afterwards, no talking is needed. Just some silence to let it all soak in. And feel how it changed you.

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