There was a good deal of music in our home. My mother used to sing my siblings and I to sleep using old Lutheran hymns. She played records and I remember how we loved Mantovani’s orchestra and Peter, Paul and Mary. We were big fans of Jim Croce, too. Those were the days.
My dad was a professionally trained accordionist and percussionist. He donned a long-haired wig to play the drums in rock gigs with different bands.
We grew up listening to him play Begin the Beguine and many, many other tunes on his large accordion. My dad was a fabulous accordionist. He also taught himself to play about five other instruments.
|Mr. Nightingale’s Moonsong, 5×7 watercolor by Elise, 2017. Private Collection.|
I grew up sitting inside of my dad’s base drum, while he played on his drum kit. He wouldn’t strike the drum when I was inside it. My dad often practised with his drum sticks on our car dashboard. It was a form of relaxation for him, although it didn’t do the dashboard any favors…he drummed holes in them!
When I was six, I remember asking my dad for a guitar for Christmas. “Dad, would you buy me a guitar for Christmas?” “You mean a play guitar,” he said. “No, I mean a real guitar,” I replied.
I must have seen someone playing guitar on TV, and thought if you strummed a guitar, the sounds you wanted would just automatically come out. Hahaha. Little did I know, it was slightly more complicated than that!
“You mean a play guitar,” my dad repeated what he’d said the first time. “No,” I insisted, “I want a real guitar.”
So, Christmas arrived. All the presents were opened and no guitar…my dad, grinning, disappeared into the hall and came back bearing a large gift, it had been hidden because of it’s revealing shape…I had my real guitar for Christmas!
|The Supervisor at Work, 5×7 watercolor over graphite by Elise, 2016. Private Collection.|
My mother had also gotten me some real guitar lessons. I took lessons from age 6-9. I think they may have been weekly, or every other week. I remember learning to play things like “Old MacDonald Had A Farm” and “Big Rock Candy Mountain”…I learned about measures, full and half notes in the treble clef, how to tune the guitar and use a pick
My teacher told my parents I was the best guitar student he had ever had, of any age! I was a very determined child. I practiced and was prepared for each lesson.
Then, we moved to Vermont when I was nine and I said goodbye to my first guitar teacher. I don’t remember his name.
We had a piano then and I began to learn to play it a little. Reading the base clef was more difficult, as I had learned only treble clef for guitar.
Then my dad, who understood chord theory very well, the circle of fifths, augmented and diminished chords, arpeggios and scales of all kinds, gave me a few lessons. I would sit next to him while he played and watch his hands fly over the keys. He taught me about scales and corresponding chords.
It was dad who had us start singing for an audience. He would have us come forward and sing with him while he played the piano at church. “His Sheep Am I” was one of those early songs. After my dad left, we continued to find unique songs to sing for our tiny church audience.
“The Christian Girls have a Special,” our pastor would happily announce. A “Special” meant music that was not necessarily in the regular church service. Sometimes we chose those songs after getting to church. Other times we would practice on our way to church, in the car. My mom would sometimes groan and tell us we sounded terrible, practicing. Then she was usually amazed when our songs would miraculously come together at the last minute for the presentation!
We had very kind, elderly church folks who would smile and nod, enjoying my sister’s and I, as we tried to harmonize. We never outgrew the “Christian Girls” title either. Even in our thirties, we were known as “the Christian Girls.”
|Healing the Soul, 5×7 watercolor and pen & ink by Elise, 2017. Private Collection.|
Being extremely shy, I didn’t like being in front of an audience. Only in my thirties would I finally become comfortable in front of people, after years of forcing myself to teach children. Early on, I would drop my head and try to hide behind my music or hymnal. My mother told me I needed to raise my head up, so my voice could be heard. So, then I would lift my music up in front of my face and hide behind it that way.
I don’t know why I was so afraid to be seen, but I was. Filming myself now is a challenge, but I’m trusting the message is more important than the fear I have of what people might think.
My younger sister quickly became an excellent sight-reader and highly accomplished pianist after we began taking regular piano lessons. She has a huge musical gift. These lessons lasted two years, with our fun piano teacher, Miriam, coming to our home every two weeks.
I had glasses by then and really struggled to read sheet music. Memorizing music was easy, once I learned it, but sight-reading was very difficult for me. So my younger sister became our accompanist. She could sing alto, emphasize someone else’s part, all while playing the piece! She went on to have a twenty-year piano teaching business. We are very proud of her musical accomplishments.
My older sister has a great high voice, and a fabulous talent for writing beautiful lyrics and song poetry.
Each of my sisters are professional musicians today.
I remember standing next to my older sister, singing hymns at church, and thinking her voice was my voice. She could sing tenor an octave high…but hearing anything besides the main melody was extremely difficult for me. I couldn’t distinguish words in English songs on the radio, either, until I was around twenty-five years old. All I heard was the melody.
Hearing and seeing in great detail were not my strong points. So, to be painting and singing today is just a little funny. Our Father takes our weaknesses to show Himself strong.
|My sisters and me, circa 2000, perhaps.|
But back in our teens and twenties, my sisters and I would sing for funerals, weddings, churches and special occasions. This was before cameras could film, before social media…sadly, we don’t have much footage of all the songs we sang, just our memories.
I have always had a BIG voice, but it wasn’t always on key, and the tone was terrible. I was often reminded by my well-meaning family, “Elise, tone is more important than volume.” I listened to them, but then usually shrugged off this constant constructive criticism, because I didn’t really understand what was meant by this comment. And I really didn’t care too much, either! I sang to share a message. I also sang to make a joyful noise to the Lord, and the louder noise I made, the better I often felt. Dopamine.
When I was nineteen, we found a new classical guitar teacher. Peter was wonderful. We had lessons every two weeks and I practiced HARD, a couple hours every day. I remember telling my mother that I didn’t know WHY I wanted to learn to play the classical guitar so badly, when the songs didn’t even have words, but I just HAD to do it. She told me it was okay. I put words to some of the classical pieces, to give them more meaning.
After awhile Peter told me I could become a professional classical guitarist. He said I had both the technique and memorization ability. I considered this idea, but didn’t want to HAVE to practice five hours a day. I felt this would turn music into work, and ruin the sheer joy playing music always gave me.
So I chose to become a visual artist instead. My music became the place I went for fun, for a brain break when I’d hit the wall, painting.
If I had worked until I could no longer focus, I’d go downstairs and play either the piano or guitar, and when I felt better, I’d return to my painting. Music has been a HUGE help in the work I do as an artist.
|Yellow Rose Impression, 5×7 watercolor by Elise, 2017. Private Collection.|
There were times when I was very injured. I couldn’t play the guitar when my wrists or shoulders were sprained…but eventually those injuries would heal. When my knees and ankles were sprained, I’d play music all the more. The piano and guitar became my friends. I would play when everyone else has gone out, making as much noise as I wanted. There was no one home to complain.
After five years of doing many other things and not playing piano, I went back to this instrument around age twenty-two. I felt strongly there was music inside me and even if I never played as well as my younger sister, I needed to play again.
This time I tried to play without reading music, using what I knew of scales and arpeggios. And eight years after working diligently on this method, I felt I went through a sort of “wall.” I began to gain more unconscious fluidity and sense of my own style. It was special, to feel I had been given a musical gift, after all those years of just tagging along, behind my highly talented sisters.
When I was in my early thirties, I did a gallbladder cleanse. We had been studying the gallbladder and I figured I’d experiment on myself. I was shocked to learn I had gallstones. During this lemon juice and olive oil cleanse, I felt both the eustacian tubes in my ears drain. Who would think the ears are connected to the gallbladder? This was news. But after this cleanse, I was much more able to hear tone and stay on key while singing.
Just recently I learned the gallbladder is connected to stored emotional issues surrounding your dad. Wow, funny thing, I have had a lot of issues in this regard.
When I was thirty-six, in New Zealand, I was staying with a family who was singing in a large choir of 600 people. I joined them, and choir members at practices sitting around me started saying, “you have such a beautiful voice, can I sit next to you?” I was shocked! Me, have a beautiful voice? My family had always said I had a voice that sounded like a cow bellowing!
So, it was a long time before I learned others thought I had a nice-sounding voice. That was nice. But it didn’t change the fact that I sang for God, to praise Him. I’ve never really been interested in singing pop music, or in performing per say. I sing to share a positive message. My desire is to use my voice to praise God “with my whole heart, to be glad and rejoice in Him, and sing praise to His name,” as David said he would do in Psalm 9:1-2.
I remember attending many free local university bands and singing groups, and some symphonies for the Fourth of July, too. But we didn’t have a lot of money to attend big concerts.
|My sisters and me, aka “The Christian Girls” =)|
Our family used to have a large eclectic collection of beautiful musical CDs in styles from around the world. This was before the days of iTunes and downloading music to your iPod or computer. I don’t think I’ve personally purchased more than half a dozen CDs in my lifetime.
Making music was more important and more affordable than going to listen to someone else’s music. Same with art. While I really enjoy art museums and my Facebook feed of beautiful artwork today, I grew up creating art, not studying art history.
|Clarity and Hope – Revealed by His Spirit, 5×7 watercolor and pen & ink by Elise, 2017. Private Collection.|
Today I’m in a bit of a rut. I play my memorized classical pieces. I can play and sing worship songs continuously for around two hours…and these are what I am hoping to record.
I had another head injury last November, hitting the top of my head very hard on a ceiling while moving…after this injury, I had some brain fog and playing became difficult – I felt fuzzy. It came to me that I may not be able to play for ever, and so I am trying to have a memory of the songs I love.
I have sung worship songs to God in private for many, many years. He has seen and heard me. Now I feel it is important to expand the width and breadth of my listening audience, so many others might hear and perhaps be encouraged, too, that the King of Glory might be praised.
This is my new You Tube channel: Elise at Painting Glory
With gratitude for the great gift of musical expression,
I remain your artist-friend,