I spoke with my Aunt Laura, whose brother is my father. She lives in Vermont so we rarely see her except at family events every few years. She is in her late 60s and is a retired professor of piano, having taught at various colleges in New England throughout her career. I got her email address from my father and asked if we could set up time to talk about music and her career. She was really interested in this assignment and thought it was great that my professor had asked us to do this because she said music is such an integral part of people’s culture and history. We skyped for about an hour. Laura was a classically trained musician and studied piano performance at the Eastman School of Music. She said she majored in music in college because she didn’t really know how to do anything else — she had studied piano since she was five. She listens mostly to classical music — Bach, Beethoven, Handel and Brahms are her favorites because she said “you can hear something different each time you listen to a different artist perform their music.” But she also loves pop and folk music from the 1960s and 70s because it was so different from the kind of music she was studying. Plus, musicians like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Joan Baez were part of the musical scene when she was a teenager. She said she also played guitar in high school and actually had a small combo with a few of her friends. They would play at coffee houses and instead of getting paid, the owners would give them free food. She sang a little too and wanted to be like Joni Mitchell because she wrote her own music and played guitar, piano and sang.
Her biggest musical influences are pianists she listened to growing up who aren’t around anymore — Glenn Gould, Arthur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz. They were masters of keyboard music at the time and she said she learned so much about phrasing and interpretation from their recordings. She especially loved Glenn Gould because he was a famous interpreter of J.S. Bach’s keyboard music.
She started playing piano because her mother played. She wasn’t a professional musician and liked to play popular songs from the day and sing when people came to visit. My grandmother thought my aunt should take lessons and found a local teacher who charged five dollars. After a year, the teacher told my grandmother she couldn’t teach my aunt anything new because she was so advanced so they switched to a really good teacher at a local conservatory.
Aunt Laura said she’d like to get back to playing the guitar but also wants to learn the cello and is actually starting lessons soon at a local music school. She said the approach is very different from the piano because you’re playing vertically instead of horizontally and she likes to keep her brain active at her age!
Music was a big part of her life growing up. Her parents had lots of records and a phonograph where you could pick up the needle and move it from song to song on the record. She naturally things music is important in everyone’s lives because she taught it for so many years. She said a person who lives in Africa and a person who lives in California have something in common if they both read music. She said it’s like learning a language which gives us the ability to communicate even if we come from different parts of the world.
My questions:
1. What do you think of the kind of music, like hip-hop and electronic, being written today? Does it have value in today’s society?
2. Was there ever something else you wanted to do besides study and teach music? What was it?
3. How do you buy and listen to music? Do you still buy cd’s or download music on iTunes?

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