Music for lyfe – part 1#

*Note: Some names in this post have been changed to protect the identity of those mentioned.

Those who know me well, know that music has been in my blood since the age of 6. I took up piano lessons at a music school close to me in Perth where I grew up and my parents and my teacher saw that I had a real knack for playing the piano and an excellent ear too. My family weren’t that well off so when a friend of my mum offered to give me some horrible split level 1970’s church organ (complete with those savvy samba and rhumba in-built beats that you hear at a baseball game). I was very excited to finally have a REAL musical instrument in the house. From age 7 to 9, I continued with my Yamaha class piano / keyboard lessons until the teacher Ms Baxter asked me whether I wanted to commence sitting my AMEB exams. My parents could see me taking to this music thing, playing at it for hours after school and just creating melodic songs and experimenting with sounds.

My folks decided to buy me a nicer keyboard, one which wasn’t some split level grandma organ and from what I can recall, it was a Roland. It was basic enough but actually sounded like a piano and had semi-weighted keys. It was nothing fancy and my parents promised that if I passed my second grade AMEB, then I would have a surprise waiting for me. Well, you just can’t imagine a kids face when you get home from your nerve wracking exam in the middle of Summer to find a beautiful Alex Steinbach upright mahogany piano, complete with matching stool and your next AMEB grade 3 music book on it. I was super stoked to say the least. I recall endless hours spent sitting at the piano, the neighbours used to love listening to me play and never complained. My siamese cat at the time, Claudius used to come up and sit next to me, watching me play the piano and sometimes even trying to play it himself (some nights he would attempt to run down the keys while we slept!). He was a gorgeous cat. We had a very calm special relationship (even though he was known to complete strangers to be vicious) until the day he passed.

The years went on, and I continued with Ms Baxter as my music teacher. I completed grades 3-6 on that piano. The grades did certainly get harder and more time was needed for the later exams to practice until I thought I was ready. When I reached grade 7, my teacher was close to retirement herself and just didn’t have the energy to continue teaching me so she referred me to another teacher in Mount Lawley. She was also pretty pissed that during some of my lessons, I got bored and picked at an apparent expensive ugly abstract painting that she had oddly placed on the floor next to her grand piano and thanks to my fidgeting, I picked at some of it until the oil paint fell off. I mean, thats what kids did right? Destroy stuff. Mrs Baxter never had any kids of her own so I was surprised her not paying any attention to me picking at this painting. She yelled and screamed at me threatening to make me pay thousands for it. Yikes.

By this stage, I was attending Churchlands high school on a coveted scholarship as 1st Oboe, I was in year 9 and because the music program at school was so intense with me playing Oboe, I was finding my interest in piano and this last exam dwiTen-piano-FINALndling because I just couldn’t a) find the time to practice along with all the music extra curricular activities going on with school and, b) with general school study. The”new” teacher I was taking lessons from, as good as she may have been, was trying to correct my playing style (my fingers are double jointed) and after 8 yrs of playing the piano, I found this new  technique training at such a later stage of my learning, highly frustrating.

Maybe she wanted me to strive for “concert pianist status” but I knew that was complatley not what I wanted as my end goal. I wasn’t some robotic kid who sat at the piano 8yrs a day to learn Chopin. I enjoyed playing with my own technique and until this point in time it had served me well. So half way into practicing for my 7th grade and 15yrs old, I decided to quit. There was simply no more enjoyment in playing such complex pieces of music. I enjoyed the simplicity of my earlier piano years. I wasn’t too sad about it, but the beautiful piano in our house then turned into more like a stagnant piece of furniture.

I continued with Oboe until I graduated high school. Our school arranged a tour of Singapore, Hong Kong and China and with my music school and friends, it was a highlight of my later school years. I got to play many famous orchestral and woodwind band arrangements, from Brahms to Ravel, Bach to Williams. I was also in senior choir as a soprano and my voice strengthened a lot paving the way for my future singing endeavors. Our senior choir conductor Mr Hue was lively, passionate and I watched him turn kids who didn’t know how to sing a note, into the most brilliant tenor’s and alto’s.

Colour-By-Numbers-FINALAt 16, besides school, I was keen to join a pop / rock band and maybe expand my musical playing in this avenue to make some cash on the side, so I teamed up with Andrew, a lively man who was (and still is) slightly obsessed with Boy George. He educated me with ALL the great 1980’s pop and rock songs and we had a number of gigs which I played with him every weekend for 2 yrs. We were called “Colour by Numbers. With our love for pop music and performing, a nice friendship developed, and we hung out weekly to rehearse and played at a few family and friend gatherings. We found ourselves an agent and started to pick up smaller pub gigs around Perth. We drove to Kalgoorlie on many occasions and stayed up there for a week, playing at one of the main pubs for 6 nights, which had an joining hotel. The money was decent at the time and a road trip at age 17 to me seemed adventurous and fun.

I continued with my Oboe until I graduated high school and completed my music scholarship in 1997. It was the year after that things kind of went down hill. I was in my 18th year. Mum left and my parents separated. It was tough but I knew she was unhappy and I was emotionally mature enough to understand her reasons, even though I was saddened by it all. My dad went ballistic. It was really hard to deal with seeing him hurt but also supporting my mum, because for the later part of those years, my dad just didn’t want to work things out with her and they both became like ships in the night, living in the house with the one common interest – us kids. So dad took to coming to all my gigs with me and Andrew, which was fair enough, I was 17 so needed an adult to be there. But even when I turned 18, he still insisted on accompanying me to gigs. I think it helped him a lot to get over what had happened and remain “busy”. A year or so went on and I decided to seek new musical opportunities.

I got a job in the city working for a fashion wholesaler and I wanted to move out from living in the family home to be with mum.  She was living in my aunts house (her twin sisters place). It was north of Perth and far from the city. I missed her and she missed me too. Dad didn’t take that too well but he was all but a ghost most days, drifting in and out of the house, didn’t care what my brother was up to. He took me moving as a pretty big insult, which I didn’t understand why. It’s not like I did it to get at him, I just wanted to be around a more positive environment. One day when I had gone back to the house to retrieve a few things, including our cat Cindy (she just hated being there with my dad and brother), I noticed the piano was missing. “Where is my piano?” I asked. He admitted to selling it to pay for legal bills. Say WHAT? I couldn’t believe it! In shock, I took what I had and the cat, and drove in tears back to where I was living with mum. I can still remember all those feels that day. It was like someone that you trusted and loved so dearly just picked up a knife and stabbed you right in the heart. I mean, what kind of parent does that? The piano was MORE than just a “thing”. It was a tool that had fostered my musical growth for many years. It was something that I wanted to hand down to my kids and then my grandkids hand down to their kids. After that incident, it was hard for me to repair that relationship with my dad. We tried for a number of years, but sadly, the effort was really one sided and the other side was just after monetary gratitude.

After leaving Colour By Numbers duo, I joined a trio with 2 guys….Mike and Roger. Platform Three. From the Swinging Pig down in Rockingham, to the Moon and Sixpence in the city. It was playing with them that I felt my voice really strengthened and developed From that light breathy choir falsetto to a real powerful rock/pop voice. I sang anything from Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, Marvin and Aretha. This was also at a time before smoking was banned in all venues so my voice was really raspy (I guess inhaling 100 peoples cigarette smoke will do that to you.) The guys enjoyed my singing because I was awesome at harmonising. I played with them for around 2 yrs too, until Mike decided one day that apparently my “look” wasn’t raunchy enough and he decided to ‘hire’ behind my back 2 absolutely pathetic bimbo’s (who couldn’t sing mind you but looked like they were fresh out of some seedy strip bar). They arrived one night and stood to the side on stage attempting to sing but looking stupid. It was so laughable, that I practically just quit on the spot that night, because thats what you do when there is literally no space on the tiny pub stage. I’m a lover not a fighter, and if that was the direction he wanted his little ensemble to go in, well so be it.

So I’m going to wrap up this blog post here, but stay tuned for “music for lyfe – part 2#” where I continue my ramblings on my music career in my mid to late 20’s.