Many fond memories about humble musical beginnings

I come from a musical family. My grandfather and his brother played in a band—or orchestra as it was called back then. They often provided the music at the community hall for dances. My father plays “by ear”.

I come from a musical family. My grandfather and his brother played in a band—or orchestra as it was called back then.

They often provided the music at the community hall for dances. My father plays “by ear”.

He doesn’t read sheet music but is able to listen to a tune and pick it out on any of his many instruments; piano, fiddle, guitar, accordion or banjo.

My oldest sister plays the piano and my middle sister plays the saxophone.

And then there is me. Other than being able to single-handedly hammer out a mean version of “Mary had a little lamb” on the piano the only thing I really excelled at playing was my records and later CD’s.

Today I mostly play music downloaded onto my MP3.

When it comes to singing, as the saying goes, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

The closest I ever got to being a musician was one brief year in Grade four when I found myself part of a group called The Wire Choir.

Our little band consisted of six girls who played guitars and sang. The only thing I liked about it was making the macramé guitar strap and buying picks at the music store.

The picks came in a huge assortment of gorgeous colours from hot pink to iridescent metallic gold and back then they were priced something like 10 for a dollar.

I loved that music store with all its mysterious ingredients. And I loved the idea of being a musician.

But I hated playing that guitar. My fingers were clumsy, the strings hurt my fingers and the only way I was able to make the chord changes was to watch the teacher’s hands like a hawk.

The goal was to enter the music festival and compete with other schools.

We practiced every afternoon for weeks on end.

As the festival drew near the teacher took me aside and suggested I mouth the words since I was throwing everyone off key.

Unfortunately it turned out I even mouthed the words out of synch.

When our big moment came we took to the stage, strummed and sang only to have the adjudicator inform us she had to dock points because the red headed girl on the left was only pretending to sing.

That would be me.

The whole thing was so demoralizing that I never played or sang—or pretended to sing-in public again.

Ah well, if we were all on the stage making music there wouldn’t be an audience.

Someone needs to face the music and clap.

And as luck would have it, I am an excellent clapper. I might not clap in rhythm, but rest assured I can slap my hands together rather nicely.

I can even cheer. And if need be, I can do a bit of raucous foot stomping too.

But I can’t whistle worth a darn. Such is life.

The other weekend we took in the Sweetwater 905 Arts Festival that takes place every year on Emilie and Larry Mattson’s family farm just outside of Rolla BC. Emilie is a gifted artist in a myriad of mediums whose work fills both her studio and yard.

One of my favourite pieces is a boat she made out of cow placenta; a boat she once sailed down the creek in just to prove it wasn’t just form it was also functional.

Some of you may have seen it at her show at the art gallery a few years back.

Today, if you stand in the alleyway of Emilie and Larry’s barn, you can see the boat out the back door perched on the peak of a roof on an old log building as if it were washed up after an epic flood.

Such is the magic of the Mattson farm.

Sons Karl and Dean are also talented artists as well as musicians.

The annual festival brings together poets, visual artists, musicians and hundreds of people whose dedicated craft for the weekend is creating an appreciative audience.

At one point during the festival a singer took the stage and said in a quick aside to the band, “In the key of A.”

For a moment I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy followed by a twang of exclusion from knowing I will never be part of that group who knows what being “in the key of A” means. It’s the same sort of melancholy I get when I watch someone intently tuning an instrument or testing a sound system.

It’s about being on the outside looking in.

But then the music started, the singer sang and the audience was swept along for the ride. I clapped my hands, stomped my feet, bought a CD to play later and it was all good.

Nah, it was better than good.

It was grand.

Shannon McKinnon is a syndicated columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns by visiting