With the whole world we watched and waited, many of us praying for the Wild Boar football team and the coordinated rescue effort in Thailand.

It is so good to see them reunited with their families this week. The young boy who  translated for the group with the divers who found them, 14 year old Myanmar-born Adun Sam-On, was overjoyed to be reunited with a church community that has become his family in Thailand.  I understand he plays piano and violin as well as guitar, and I was just delighted to see him playing his guitar with his music group. During his incredible ordeal waiting deep in the Tham Luang cave, I could well imagine there were times, along with thinking about food, that he dreamed of the day he could pick up a guitar again to play with friends. *

This event that captured the world’s attention showed how important team work and group solidarity are. Even before following the dramatic rescue I had been thinking about how important it is that our budding musicians find some sort of group to play music with.

 

Solo ‘group’ playing

I enjoy playing double bass in a community orchestra, but there are ways to simulate the experience, even when not at rehearsals or in performance. Recently I was playing along with a You Tube recording of a piece of music our orchestra was preparing to perform.  Obviously this lacks the social aspects of group playing, but it gave me the opportunity to hear how my double bass part fitted in with a complete orchestra. I just turned the speakers up loud and played along, stopping to practice areas where I couldn’t keep up! Then I was much better informed to know what to expect in real rehearsals.

Duets – a minimal group

Another kind of group playing is when your tutor plays a duet part with the music you are learning. I do this often with my beginners, once they are confident with the pieces they are learning. It is often their first ‘group’ experience and it shows up the importance of knowing where they are up to in the music, and holding longer notes for the full count while the other part plays.

Full group opportunities

It is a good idea to investigate what music groups there may be on offer at schools. Often there can be groups at different levels and ranging from an orchestra type group to a rock band. I teach an orchestra group for a primary school where for many of the players it is their first group experience. I do my best to make sure the music they are learning is a little below the level they can play well on their own, so that they can focus on learning how to play as a group. In addition to strings, woodwind and brass, I have a number of young pianists playing glockenspiels and other percussion instruments.

Other group ideas 

How about musical theatre? Whatever the role, this is a great way to meet folks from all walks of life. I remember getting stretched by being involved in various shows and watching from the orchestra pit. I can still remember some great lines from  “Fiddler on the Roof” after a month of performances many years ago, and still love the music.

In most urban areas there are a variety of community music groups. These include brass bands, hand bell ensembles, choirs and ukulele orchestras. We have some interesting percussion groups in our city, including African drumming and Marimba groups. I found out this week that there is a group especially for those who have started learning a stringed instrument as an adult.

At the very least, a child learning a musical instrument should sing in any kind of choir. Choirs are a great group for any age and there are all sorts out there. There are those with instrumental accompaniment and also unaccompanied ones, such and barbershop or other acapella styles.  There is much you can learn in a choir about making music together. I notice that when I accompany school choirs at the piano there are often children who take an active interest in seeing and hearing what the piano part does.

I have seen young people like Adun really benefit from playing in their church groups. Wanting to play in a youth band is a great motivator. I developed most of my earlier confidence at the piano through playing for Sunday school music as a teenager.  Since then I can honestly say that the range of musical groups I have been involved in over many years has enriched my life. And all because someone encouraged me to get involved as a young person.

 

If you or your child are learning in isolation, without even the anticipation of planning to join a music group of some sort, you may find it hard to keep motivated to stick at it through the needed practice times. But aside from that, playing with others is what often brings your music playing to a new level of enjoyment.  I hope you will take the plunge and  find a music group that will help you get there.

If you can’t find the right group to suit you – maybe this is the time to start your own!  You never know what may come of it, where it might lead and who might be grateful out there that you did.


*Adun’s story is 2 minutes into the report:  https://www.cbsnews.com/news/uncertainty-remains-for-the-stateless-as-boys-rescued-from-thai-cave-return-home-2018-07-19/?ftag=CNM-00-10aab8d&linkId=54486213

Imagine waking to the sound of an alarm clock drowning out your own snoring. Your ears and muffled footfall on the hollow stairs lead you to the clatter of dishes and the scraping of carbon toast. You’ve reached the kitchen and switch on the radio: a studio interview. Next channel, another one. Next, further talking heads. There is nothing interesting, enlivening, uplifting; no music. A guitar props up the corner of the room. It has no strings. You step outside. A jet roars its departure against the background hum of rush hour traffic. A jackhammer adds its machine gun staccato. There is no birdsong. There is no music.

I have recently had several medical appointments to address a blocked ear condition. The loss of hearing has made me appreciate afresh what a privilege our sense of hearing is, and how hard it must be for those completely devoid of hearing. Being able to decode each of the sounds that vibrate our tiny eardrums is such a gift. The alarm clock, the dishes, the toast scraping, the jackhammer and the jet all tell their story to give us an auditory landscape in which to live and move.

I am not a musician. I have dabbled with playing a couple of instruments in the past, but have never had lessons, nor learned to read music. However, I do enjoy listening to music (I have quite eclectic – my children would say ‘bizarre’ – tastes) and I love to sing. But lately that joy has been hampered by hearing my voice through my head, rather than through my ears. Then, when my hearing comes back into balance I can sing with gusto (not as I should, perhaps, but at least as I am used to). And the joy returns.

We have so many privileges in life. Among the best of these are our senses. When any one of these is taken away we are at a loss. Hearing is a wonderful gift, but perhaps hearing is just the wrapping for the gift of music. Whether you like to listen to Beethoven, Beebop, Bacharach or Beyoncé, or just birdsong; whether you enjoy playing a musical instrument, or singing in a choir, karaoke bar or the shower, be thankful that you can.

We can be thankful that we don’t live in a world without music. What a privilege.