When nerds express

Over summer I experienced a Brush with Music.

Did I turn the radio on, I hear you ask? Buy a new CD? Attend a chamber music recital? Nay – you may put your sardonically cocked eyebrow away. I decided I was going to sing in public. Not only that, but I decided I was going to sing a composition of my own creation. A pal asked me to MC her wedding with Jules, a friend’s partner, and we wanted to make it a challenge by pooling our talents of music and writing.

What a lot of fun it was! Once we met up for our jam session, the whole thing came together remarkably well. I wrote the lyrics to three songs, and Jules picked out some tunes on his guitar. One song we wrote I just started singing off the bat! A tune came out of my head! Me! I would like to say we were a howling success, but once the time came to sing, the PA system let us down a bit and much of the nuance of my carefully crafted lyrics was lost in the echo-y acoustics. I probably looked a right twat. T’wouldn’t be your modest narrator otherwise.

But the whole episode made me think twice about my humble musical origins. Could I have done any better with my choice of instrument? Is there anything I could do with the growing number of songs sitting in my bottom drawer? Could I call upon my rusty talents and give it a bash?

From the age of six, I learnt the piano from a lady around the corner, Mrs Moloney. This was all about mucking around on the plethora of giant Casio keyboards she had in her back room and getting up to no good with my best bud Cilla. The only gettin’ down and groovin’ that happened was when we realised the Casio had the same riff as ‘Da Da Da’.

Later, things took a turn for the much worse when I decided to learn the French Horn. This phenomenon happens in most private schools, when they look at their prospectus and realise that phrases like ‘full symphony orchestra’ are on it and seek to pad out their feeble line-up. Most kids remain impervious to their offers of cheap tuition and rented instruments, because I dare say they know better. However in the hope of being unique and interesting, the weaker amongst their number say they’ll give the Euphonium or Piccolo or whatever a crack.

I am not raving – if you ask any software developer or engineer what instrument they learnt when they were younger, they will reply ‘French Horn’, ‘Bassoon’ or ‘Tuba’. Don’t believe me? There are no exceptions to this rule. I know at least two animators who learnt the French Horn. I recently saw a weedy, bespectacled Chinese boy struggling with his unwieldy French Horn case on a crowded tram while his mate huffed and pretended not to know him. I felt for the little chap, but was willing to bet that inside his schoolbag was either a giant graphing calculator, JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, a sketchpad of purple-haired Manga girls with big breasts or all three.

So for years too long I lugged my attention-grabbing case on sweaty Ventura buses, out on the Glen Waverley line, on family holidays and even to Year 8 camp, where Nicky Ramsay (the daggiest girl in our year) and I unexpectedly delighted the troops with our Clarinet/French Horn duet of ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, which we hadn’t intended to be funny.

I first learnt the instrument from Mrs Washfold, one of those small, pursed, humourless women you only find in all-girl’s schools. Boy, did she have it in for me. Only now do I realise it was my lack of dedication to practice and ‘tude in general. She harried me into the school orchestra which was led by Miss Remfry, whom it was rumoured went mad, locked a student in a cupboard, and was sent to a lunatic asylum. I doubt this was far off the truth – all the music teachers at my school seemed completely, illogically, nuts.

Mrs Washfold would often shout and gesticulate if I was even five minutes late to a group practice, then spend our private lesson playing mind games. When I broke down in tears one day under her bullying and confessed that I’d got my first period that morning, she spent the rest of the day being alternately solicitous and pulling me aside to loudly whisper if I needed any Panadol. I still cringe at the memory.

Once Mrs Washfold decided she could teach me no more, I continued to be a dork. I felt I had to persevere with that spit-soaked instrument, and moved onto private tuition with Pru – a batshit-crazy sporter of woollen jumpers with busy farmyard scenes and a dirty mouth (Brahms was dismissed as a ‘total fucking Nazi’). Her claim to fame was playing on not only The Man From Snowy River soundtrack, but Whispering Jack by John Farnham. She used to bring in his CDs to play to me. The full story of Pru is a whole other blog post, but suffice to say her tales kept my friends entertained for at least five years. ‘You’re the Voice’ makes me a little physically sick when I hear it now.

After all of this palaver – how much musical information do you think has sunk in? Not very bloody much I can tell you. I can across some info recently on Devo’s unusual time signatures and was fascinated. Is that what those numbers are called? And can you change it in the middle of a song? How about that. I never learnt to play a bass line, I never really got the hang of sight-reading and I certainly never arranged any music of my own. Either I’m musically thick (possible), or it could be that the AMEB’s idea of Contemporary Popular Music includes tunes like ‘Fascinatin’ Rhythm’ and ‘It’s A Raggy Waltz’.

So. We can conclude that there are some dorky instruments that no sane person should go near as a teenager:

1. French Horn
2. Bassoon
3. Tuba
4. Harp
5. Mountain Dulcimer
6. Bagpipes
7. Accordion
8. Harpsichord
9. Flute
10. Oboe

And that there are some that are moderate to very useful, and will allow you to do cool things when you’re older like join bands and put tunes to your songs, should you write any:


1. Guitar (acoustic, bass, rhythm etc)
2. Drums
3. Saxophone
4. Trumpet
5. Trombone
6. Piano
7. Clarinet (for jazz purposes only)
8. Violin (same, bluegrass)
9. Banjo
10. Kazoo/gumleaf/harmonica

It’s a goodly list, and one I think worth presenting to my niece, who is only 10, and has recently started at a posh private school. I will have a very suspicious eye on her music teachers let me tell you.

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4 thoughts on “When nerds express

  1. I was glad to see the trombone on the “tick” list as indeed, said niece has been coerced to take up this wondrous instrument at said posh school.Tuition and rental are free! But the teacher is already widely regarded as being a fruitloop so she indeed be well qualified for the position. Apparently some poor sod got the tuba so I suppose we got off lightly….you forgot to mention the recorder, although these days that seems to have gone by the wayside. And who could forget Miss Bridgart – the loopiest music teacher i ever had who used to write, act in and direct her own religious musicals….another blogworthy article i reckon.

  2. I would just like to mention this marvellous and fairly newish invention called electronic drums – a kit that can be played and heard clearly through earphones but is silent to the rest of humanity. It is a miracle of creation for all those who have suffered a family member, say a younger brother perhaps, who took drums ALL the way through school. And who had a double base pedal to better belt out Pantera. Not that I dislike Pantera – far from it – just when it reverberates through my bedroom wall a half-beat off. For four years.

  3. Trombone only for ska or punk purposes, i hope her loopy teacher makes her aware..Miss Bridgart! Who could have predicted her dramatic cry of ‘welcome to Italy!!’ at a grade 6 concert. She was the head of the recorder group in junior school, I have indeed forgotten.Anon, sounds like a Simon-related offence to me – ho! Is hard to eradicate that bogan blood that courses through both your veins.

  4. “I felt for the little chap, but was willing to bet that inside his schoolbag was either a giant graphing calculator, JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, a sketchpad of purple-haired Manga girls with big breasts or all three.”Haaaahahahahahahahahahaaah… Lordy i wished that was just a gross stereotype, but alas! ;)I briefly took the clarinet in secondary school, but soon opted for our choir. Exemption from music classes and getting to loiter after school for practice/hang out with my friends/perve on the boy-alto-crush-du-jour-who-turned-out-to-be-gay? Who cares i couldn’t sing!Good times.

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