About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
I am a native of Illinois and grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. After dropping out of college, I moved to California in 1973 with my first husband. I married my present husband, Butch, in 1977 and got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me a grandmother 25 times over and a great-grandmother of 19. Three years after I married Butch I returned to school. I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication and was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 to return to school and get my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore and genealogy - and add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play a number of folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega with Genealogy Journeys where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that can be found at http://genaandjean.blogspot.com and more about my own business projects is on my Circlemending website.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Music: the passion that holds our family together

I enjoy reading Orson Scott Card's weekly column in Mormon Times. Some people will be familiar with Mr. Card's writings in the field of Science Fiction and his award-winning Ender's Game, a great series, particularly designed for youth. I am not a big Science Fiction fan, but Mr. Card's work is not limited to that genre and his inspiring column often gets me thinking. Such it was this past week.

The column of which I speak is titled "Who are we as a family?" (Sept. 11, 2010). In it he addresses the issue of how families distinguish themselves from one another through various characteristics unique to them. He mentions his own family's love of the theater and involvement on both sides of the stage; all the children are active in some aspect of the field of drama. Mr. Card mentions another family he knows that has the same preoccupation with sports, and yet another whose members are all involved with video gaming.

I can think of families whose uniqueness is defined by their love of travel, boating, fishing, mountain climbing, etc. But it didn't take me even a half second to identify what our family's passion is: music (you thought something else?). But instead of looking at who is under our roof right now (that would be two adults and two dogs), I can look at each of our "kids" (all adults now, of course) and most of their children as well.

Our oldest daughter, Patty, and her daughter Miracle are heavily involved in a local choral group where they have weekly rehearsals and frequent performances. It binds them together as mother and daughter while challenging them in their singing. Miracle also plays the flute, has played the piano, and just announced that she also wants to learn guitar (Grandma is so very proud!!). But Miracle's younger sisters are also musical and when the three girls sing together it surely must make the angels stop to take notice. One of the girls plays piano and the other is about to begin learning violin. Patty herself has been involved in music probably since she began to talk. She instilled that love of music into her children (she also has six children from her first marriage plus two step-children). All of those kids were involved in singing at church, but two of them - Emily and Amy - attended a performance-based high school so singing, instrument-playing, and drama were a major part of their adolescence. The oldest of the Patty's offspring, Kirbi, was accomplished on the violin and then graduated to the viola when she was growing up. After leaving her school years behind, she continues in her musical interests, often being asked to sing in church. It is no surprise that she met her husband on a stage and his profession - a professor of music and drama - brings music into the household virtually daily (we visited them in August and were treated to Joe's wonderful piano playing, but missed hearing a song from Kirbi). When the two perform together you know that they are bound by a deep love of music. What a blessing. Patty's other children also enjoy music, but have not pursued it to quite that same degree - they have other, just as valid, passions.

Our son Quentin learned to play guitar when he was young, but he discontinued that when he went into the Navy. But he never quit his love for music - it has only grown and changed. His music tastes touch on everything from hard rock (or whatever it is called now) to classical. But, when he met his lovely wife Mary Jane, he was introduced to Country music (about which, in the past, he had been less than complimentary). Now it is just as likely that a C/W song will be playing in his home as a classical piece. (Well, with two young boys, it's most likely that the songs on the stereo will be from Sesame Street! And Quentin, who has an amazing voice, will probably be singing right along!) Quentin's older children, now adults, also are music lovers. Jenifer played oboe when she was growing up and became quite proficient at it.

Sandi, our daughter in Georgia, brought lovely music into our home when she took up residence with us when she was in high school and continues to do so in her home near Atlanta. She married a music lover, too, who enjoys playing guitar and banjo, accompanying Sandi and their children for some family music time. Sandi's children all sing (a year ago when they were here for Christmas they made a family holiday CD - the "children" - two will be graduating college this next year - have grown up harmonizing together). Three of Sandi's children have been in competitive choirs and her daughter Kati has been involved in an a cappella choir in college. They are all natural performers. I cannot imagine what there house would be like if music was banned from the earth.

Our youngest son, Max, has taken his love of music into a completely different direction. As a child he sang in the school choirs and often was featured as a soloist. But as an adult he let his interests take him into the world of providing music for others as a DJ. He is getting known in Austin, where he lives, and is frequently booked to do weddings and private parties. He is as comfortable with music from the 1980s as he is with that from today or his father's childhood. His is another home where music is often heard. His young step-son, Zack (age 5), is already showing a musical talent and enjoys singing and dancing.

So it appears that I am correct in saying that the passion that binds our family members together is music. But it can also be traced back to those whose legacy we carry on. My husband, Butch, has nurtured his enjoyment of music, having been taught to appreciate it at the knee of his grandmother. How far back in his line the music gene goes, I am not sure. Of course, my kids are all my step-kids, but how much is nature and how much is nurture? My music roots extend into both branches of my family. My mother's maternal grandmother had been raised in a household where musical performances were frequently part of the evening's events and the family had a conservatory in the house (in Bohemia) where entertainment was commonplace. My father's maternal grandfather was a musician and he passed that talent on to my father, who was truly a genius on the piano and organ (and any other instrument he elected to pick up). He had perfect pitch and was very particular about the sound that was emitted by whatever was being played. It made performing in his presence somewhat intimidating, but, looking back, that was not necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, my mother was tone deaf, though she loved music and even tried to sing along (until my dad would ask her to stop). Nevertheless, our family get-togethers almost always included some music time (and, yes, much of it was recorded).

Now in our home, with two adults and two dogs, music is just a natural part of most events. Whenever we have a gathering, music is generally at the center. I like it that way, though some may see it as strange. When we celebrated our 30th anniversary, Patty and her family were here, along with about 25 or 30 of our closest friends, and after about two or three hours of music (we sat in a group on the porch taking turns singing and playing folk music), my granddaughter Mikayla crawled into her dad's lap, sitting next to me, and said that she finally figured it out: "This is a music party!" (I think she was waiting for some other part of the party to start!) I told her it was the only party we knew how to have and she nodded and agreed that she liked it.

Thank you, Orson Scott Card, for reminding me of the passion that has been in my family long before I came along and that I have taken the responsibility of passing on to the next generation and the one after that. Is there a passion that has bound your family together from one generation to the next and the next?

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