The best mental health pick me up

I decided I needed to do something this semester to keep my mind off of the fact that I’ll be unemployed in May. So I decided to take a class — actually, a lesson. I had a clarinet, and I’d taught myself a bit back in college, but I’d never taken an actual lesson. I signed up at school, which means it was basically free (had to pay $150 course fee, but that’s a steal for 15 weeks of music lessons, when I pay my kid’s teacher $25 per week). I have an awesome teacher. And unlike college, when I was a music major, I actually practice now.

So in a very short time, I’ve gone from knowing very little to being able to play the chromatic scale from low E all the way to high C — about two and a half octaves — which covers a lot of what you need to know for basic music. I have a good handle on fingerings and all that. I’ve played a billion exercises and am working on a solo piece right now. It’s been a lot of fun and a big challenge trying to fit it all in. For the most part, I practice 4-6 days a week, between a half hour to an hour each time. More than an hour, and I’m really getting sore. But there are some days, like today, when I practiced in the morning, had my lesson at 1:00, practiced right after for another half hour, then played again tonight for about 40 minutes. That means I played for more than two hours today. It felt great.

I have had a lot of ups and downs this semester. After spring break, I was so depressed that I could barely get anything done. One of the few things that has given me some measure of satisfaction and, dare I say, joy has been learning how to play clarinet — really learning. Not just fiddling around with it.

One of the exciting benefits of my playing has been that Will has been practicing his oboe more, and he’s getting better all the time, too. He’s playing more interesting, more challenging music. It’s awesome to see how much he’s grown with it. He’s going to be playing in a youth orchestra this summer that my clarinet teacher runs, and I think it’s going to be so awesome for him! We decided that we want to get him a full conservatory oboe so that he can start playing the instrument to its (and his) full potential. It’s an investment. Some friends have said, “Oh man, what if you spend thousands on an oboe and he stops playing?” My response is twofold: (1) I want to learn to play oboe too, so if he drops it, I’ll pick it up; (2) If neither of us want to play it anymore, we’ll sell it. Instruments are pretty easy to get rid of. But I doubt he’ll want to sell it — at least for a good long while. It’s been really fun for us to play music together — we’ve practiced a clarinet/oboe duet together a bit, and it’s a blast! If nothing else, it gives us something special that we do together.

There have been really lovely benefits. Not only has playing improved my mood, but it’s brought Will and I together in a new way. I’m pretty sure I could quit therapy at this point. All I really need is to learn to play more instruments. Thankfully, we have several:

    1. Piano – I took lessons when I was a slacker college student and never practiced. I suck at piano. I have a hard time reading two staves at a time, and never really got to the point where I look at it like one staff. It might help if I’d ever played a bass instrument for a long enough time to be able to sight read without going, “Okay, is that … All Cows Eat Grass… Oh. That’s an E.” (Insert eye roll.)


    1. Bass (Upright, Electric, and Ukulele bass) – Aric plays all three of these instruments, and he’s great at them. I had to play upright bass for a half a semester in college, and again, I never practiced. I have the basic knowledge — like what the strings are and some of the basic finger positions, but it’s been so long that I’d really have to work up the finger/wrist/arm strength to manage it for the upright. The others wouldn’t be too hard on my body, but Uk-bass is something else entirely.


    1. Ukulele – Aric plays.


    1. Guitar – Aric and I both play guitar, although it’s been a while since I’ve played. I was never a great guitar player, and I DID practice a lot! Back in the day, I used to play coffee houses on occasion — singing and playing guitar. It was fun, but I’m not really that great of a singer anymore — probably because I just don’t do it very often anymore. (Notice the lack of practice??)


    1. Tenor Sax – Aric played back in the day. Inspired by me and Will playing, Aric bought himself a new, very cheap sax on Amazon. He hasn’t had time to play it much, but that doesn’t mean I can’t steal it off its stand and try it out.


    1. Oboe – I love oboe. I just love it. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play it but thought it would be impossible because I wasn’t a very gifted musician. What I’m learning is that I’m a decent musician WHEN I PRACTICE! (And have a decent teacher!) So I might try taking oboe lessons this summer. We’ll see.


    1. Clarinet – Of course, I will continue to play clarinet too. I can imagine myself being a busker with the damn thing. Why not stand on a corner and play some jazz clarinet? I’d love that.


    1. Drums – Why do we have a drum set? I don’t know — I guess because my brother-in-law had an extra (a real one!) and gave it to my kids. Will is really good at it, but doesn’t play it much because we’re all so damn busy.


    1. Recorder – Does anyone actually play recorder well? It’s so screechy.


  1. Trombone – Will started with trombone because someone gave it to us. He decided he wanted a smaller instrument because it was cumbersome to bring home on the bus. He’d switched to sax because it was cool, but again, too big for bus riding. That’s how he ended up with oboe.

So yeah, we have plenty of musical instruments to keep me busy until I’m dead if I wanted to learn all of them. Doing that might be cheaper than psychotherapy — especially without health insurance.

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