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April 15, 2014 7:23 am

AMEND CORNER: How in the world does she do that?

Written by Don Amend

I revisited one of the great mysteries in life, at least so far as I’m concerned, on April 6.

I confronted this enigma at a concert featuring a tenor accompanied by a harp. For 90 minutes, I listened and watched as the harpist plucked out musical magic on a beautifully built collection of strings and pedals.

As I watched, I wondered, “How can she do that?”

Well, obviously, the answer is that this harpist has worked with one or more competent teachers and has practiced for a couple million hours in preparation for amazing guys like me.

Still, I’m befuddled by her talent. After all, with so many strings in such close proximity  and 10 digits all plucking in varying sequences, it seems to me, a guy cursed with pretty iffy manual dexterity, that the probability of hitting all the right strings at just the right intervals for just one simple measure would be around 1 percent, give or take — mostly take — 1 percent.

It’s not only harp players that mystify me though. My befuddlement actually extends to all instruments, including the alto saxophone my daughter played as well as the cornet and French horn my son took up when they were in the sixth grade.

A few months ago, when my 4-year-old grandson managed to produce reasonably pure notes on both the cornet and the sax the first time he laid hands on them, Grandpa was not only mystified, but a bit depressed, since I have never been able to duplicate his feat.

Not that I haven’t tried. Long ago, for example, I tried several times to blow the Boy Scout troop’s bugle. I won’t describe the “notes” I produced, but I can assure you they were sounds you really don’t want to hear, particularly in situations involving romance or in crowded elevators.

The sax and cornet, which still reside in our house, experienced my futile attempts to create a note,  and long ago a friend tried to teach me to play his clarinet with the same level of success, although the sounds emanating from the reed instruments in my hands were more spine-tingling — think fingernails on a blackboard — than disgusting. Not only that, but the cornet made my lip hurt and the sax tickled my lip and made my teeth vibrate, both of which I found rather unpleasant.

In the past I have fiddled with the piano, with which I could at least produce real notes instead of inchoate blats and screeches. I once found the sheet music to Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence,” and spent most of a summer picking it out on a piano.

After a couple of months, I could hit all the right notes for the first verse, but could never eliminate the random rests, some of them extended, that didn’t appear in the score. Moreover, ceasing my efforts for about a month obliterated my ability to play even one measure and I had to retake it from the top.

I never got to the ending.

Now, by this time, you are probably wondering why I didn’t just join the school band or otherwise receive some instruction. That could have happened because we had a piano at home, although why is a mystery in itself.

Nobody in the family played except for a cat that liked to walk up and down the keyboard, often during the hours when respectable people were trying to sleep. Her virtuosity earned her the name Schroeder, after Charlie Brown’s Beethoven lover in the funny papers, since none of us could even approach her skill.

For whatever reason, though, I was never asked if I desired lessons, even though I spent many hours with a hymnbook, trying to play songs in the key of C so I didn’t have to mess with black keys. Nor can I say why I never joined the school band. I don’t ever remember asking if I could, so I probably was never told I couldn’t.

I suspect, though, that had I taken lessons, it would have done no good. Along with my poor manual dexterity, which often makes simple typing an adventure, I have short stubby fingers that can’t even span an octave on the piano and don’t have the flexibility to play a chord on a ukulele, let alone a 12-string guitar.

In addition, I’m short on self-discipline when it comes to practicing such regimens as playing scales. Given this basic character flaw, I would never be able to overcome the shortcomings of eye-hand coordination required to find the right keys with my fingers while looking at music to see just what the right keys might be.

In a way, though, my inability to play a harp or any other instrument enhances my musical enjoyment. Since I can’t play myself, I can watch and listen in wonder while a real musician plays “Ave Maria” on a violin or marvel at the piano player accompanying Art Garfunkel on “Bridge over Troubled Water.”

That sense of wonder and admiration for the musician’s skill is a large part of my enjoyment of music, and here in Powell, this musical klutz has ample chances to experience that enjoyment.

When is the next concert?

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