Music is one of the greatest gifts in the world to me. Being as I’m a musician and a music teacher, some might say that my opinion is a little biased. I’ll grant that idea, but I feel that even I weren’t a musician, I would still have a fascination and sincere appreciation for music. The journey from the composer’s head to paper to the ears of listeners is usually a long and grueling one. Not to mention the act of reading/playing music.
I started getting really attached to music at a very young age. I distinctly remember during kindergarten, our teacher would put on some Mozart to help us fall asleep during nap time. Instead of sleeping, I would lay and listen to the gorgeous frivolity of harmonies and melodies winding around and through each other. Sometimes, my teacher would scold me for not sleeping, but there was a time in which I sat up and whispered to her that I wasn’t goofing off, rather listening to the music. I explained to her that the music interested me and I loved to hear it every day; it was my favorite part of the day! I can still see her face in my memory as I explained this. She smiled, patted my head, and stood up, allowing me to lay back down and listen to more of some of the greatest classical music ever written. Days after that, I remember her bringing in different composers rather than sticking with the same cassette. Beethoven, Brahms, Vivaldi, and Handel made appearances every week.
In second grade, I decided that I needed to start making music. This is when I picked up the violin, learning quickly. Pretty soon, I was playing more difficult music. By the fifth grade, I was on top of the world, fluently playing violin, cello and string bass.
Once I got to middle school, I started to get out into the general public and playing at certain events. Our teacher then really helped us with the publicity of it all and we even earned a little bit of side cash! I remember being invited to play at an event that the Superintendent of Schools was hosting. During the event, we were approached by him and he thanked us for our time and talent. To a seventh grader, this was a big deal.
By the time high school rolled around, I decided that music was going to be an integral part of my life and career. I couldn’t go a day without playing my instrument and even my parents gave up trying to feed me on a regular schedule. To me, my music was more important than eating dinner promptly at seven in the evening. Along with high school came more homework. There were nights I would spend two or three hours just on biology homework, but I somehow found time to practice that night, sometimes well into the early morning hours. My family invested in a heavy mute after the first couple of early morning sessions so that I wouldn’t wake up the entire house.
Sadly, tenth grade brought a terrible tragedy to our school and, on a more personal level, to my life. One of the greatest teachers this world will ever in know passed away. We didn’t find out until after school the day he mysteriously didn’t show up to school. It was announced over the PA system in the classrooms: “Attention all teachers, this is to inform you that the orchestra and music theory teacher Jack Cunningham passed away early this morning…” There was more to that announcement, but I didn’t hear it. I was devastated. This teacher was the person who taught me how to play the violin at my elementary school. While I was in middle school, Mr. Cunningham decided to switch and teach high school orchestra at the only performing arts high school in the county. He was one of the biggest reasons I decided to continue what I was doing.
For a couple of days after this, I didn’t play. My overall mood was dark and gloomy. I was unable to concentrate on anything and people started noticing. I found out shortly after the day of the dreadful announcement that Mr. Cunningham actually died in a car accident on the highway right in front of my house, literally less than 200 yards from my front door. After about a week of watching me mope, my mom pulled me outside and asked me what was going on. I told her everything, even the part where I didn’t want to play anymore. It hurt too much. My mom smacked me out of that and informed me that music was what made me who I was. She reminded me of how passionately I approached music and the amount of my life it consumed. Something inside of me stirred. I realized my mom was right. Mr. Cunningham would not have wanted me to destroy everything I have worked for just because he wasn’t there anymore. He would have wanted me to continue and succeed in everything I worked for.
I graduated high school with honors (fifth in my class) and continued my musical education at a prestigious university. This only deepened my appreciation, not only for music but also for teaching it. The thought of inspiring someone as much as Mr. Cunningham inspired me. When people ask me what music is all about, I have to stop and think. While music itself is genius and the composers who write it even more so, to me the power in music comes not from the crash of cymbals or blaring call of the brass section, it comes from the simple influence on emotions. Music is more about how it makes the audience feel. Back before television, people went to classical music concerts and listened to radios to be transported to alternate worlds. Music is what moves us up and down the emotional spectrum while watching movies. To me, music is more about how one feels than what one hears. And considering my life’s inspirations, music means a lot more to me.
Which is why I consider it one of the greatest gifts this world can bestow.