• Andrew Harrison

About me- Why am I a musician?

My mum is an amazing Jazz organist. An organ to most people is an instrument played in church. The word ‘Organ’ often resembles one of two extreme emotions; the joyous occasion of a wedding or the loss of a loved one at their funeral.

This simply isn’t the way people should think of an organ. Cinemas used to hire an organist for show intervals and also to accompany the movie for dramatic effect. The core function of an organ is to act as all instruments in a trio ensemble. Bass parts with the pedals, Chords with the left hand (Lower keyboard) and melody with the right hand (Upper keyboard). This lends itself to being possibly the most versatile instrument around and therefore can span multiple musical genres with ease.

But in truth, I don’t recall my mum playing very often unless she caught me trying to play something poorly. Then she would show me how it's done.

I believe my musical journey started way before considering playing an instrument. When I was young, my parents and I moved to Spain where I was enrolled into a spanish school. Thereafter I would not read or write in english again for the next three years.

We moved back to the UK when I was nine. I slotted straight into the end of year 5 at a local primary school where the very helpful and patient teaching staff did everything they could to get me back up to speed with regards to reading and writing.

The only problem there was that I am a nightmare to talk to/teach when I am frustrated. Being able to speak a language fluently but having no idea how to read or write it will do that to you. “Why should I re-learn how to read in english when, if you read it to me I would be able to repeat it back to you in either one of the two languages I could speak fluently?” This is a question I asked myself regularly and voiced multiple times to my parents.

The coping mechanism of getting frustrated and my unwillingness to try has hung over me to this day. I still cannot read anything at any great speed. Infact, I am willing to bet that you would probably take you less time to read this entire blog than it would take me to get through the first paragraph.

In my first year of high school I decided I wanted to learn an instrument. The electric guitar! My mum learned to play an acoustic guitar when she was around the same age and still had that very instrument. So I started having lessons at school with an amazing classical guitarist. The downside was that he wasn’t a very nice man at all. Put me down when I hadn’t played enough to make my fingers hurt and told me to cut my fingernails past the pink bit. I did this once to please him and never went back. So that was my guitar dream over, I wanted nothing to do with it again.

We then moved again, this time to the south coast where I started at another high school. This one was different. I made friends quickly and I also knew I was there to stay. One lunchtime whilst walking past the music block I heard some music coming from an open window. It was a band of at least 15 students conducted by one Mr Jeffery.

The band would later be known to me as Soul Band or ‘Souled Out’. This is where all aspiring musicians would get together and learn a small repertoire of songs: Play that funky music, Knock on wood, Watermelon man, Signed sealed delivered to name a few.

At first it was intimidating as not only were there lots of students involved but also there was a sense of pride to be a part of this elite group of musicians. I had not picked up a guitar for years and even then I knew nothing because my previous lessons amounted to maybe 5 lessons in total.

Mr Jeffery was the most fun loving, passionate and caring musician. I say musician because yes, he was a teacher and an amazing one at that but his passion was fueled by the music. He wasn’t a teacher that also taught music, when he played along with the band it was like he was one with the music. Enjoying it with every fibre of his being. This feeling was contagious and with that, everyone had the best time. Some people love football but for me and that group of people, we loved the feeling that playing music gave us. If Mr Jeffery was not able to attend for any reason, we would still be in there playing our hearts out.

The sheer size of this ensemble was amazing to witness. Students of all ages and abilities all working together to improve and enjoy themselves. Sure there was some showboating, but we were taught that everything sounds better when you play as an ensemble. Not lots of soloists playing at once. There were 5 guitarists when I asked to be a part, this would make me the 6th. But that wouldn’t stop me from sitting on the sidelines and taking in the energy and trying to twang along on an unplugged electric guitar with 4 strings instead of the normal 6 just to try to learn roughly how to play these songs.

We finally did our first performance at the school’s christmas concert playing the songs we had been practising together for months. The beauty of having practised these songs with the same people for so long was that now it wasn’t a practice session. We all already knew our parts and all we needed to do was enjoy ourselves and have a blast, which we did!

What I learned then was that I could achieve what I wanted to do. I had finally become a musician in my own eyes. Making music was about the only thing I enjoyed about my school education. This is completely down to my unwillingness to take the time and read what was requested of me. When GCSE’s came around, it took me double the amount of time to read the literature piece that needed analysing than it should have. By the time I went to answer the questions I had forgotten most of the passage because it took me so long to read to the end!

But now I know the real reason for my continuing music.

During my time at school studying music and then college followed by the Academy of Contemporary Music Guildford, the calibre of teachers I have had has been nothing short of exquisite. But the one that stands out is the man who gave up most of his lunch breaks to make music with his pupils, who stayed late after school to give some of us an extra curricular music GCSE. Who was there when you needed him to be and who now remains to be a wonderful friend of mine. He hates it that I still call him Mr Jeffrey considering I left his classroom 9 years ago but his lessons continue to inspire me to this day so I will be addressing him as my teacher for many years to come.

The other day I had a thought. “If Mr Jeffery were an art teacher with the same passion, enthusiasm and inspiration, would I now be an artist? Or a historian? Would my life be the same as it is now?” and I honestly don’t think that I would be here right now if it weren’t for him.

My goal as a musician and music teacher is to bring the same amount of joy to students of any age to fuel their passion. That way, hopefully one day they will ask themselves the same question about me. Then I will know that I have done it right.

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