Friday, April 30, 2010

My story

I was born with hearing loss when my mother contracted the German Measles or Rubella while I was still in the womb. This occurred during the Rubella outbreak of the northwest in 1960s. I born with profound hearing loss in my left ear while my right ear was somewhat spared with a hearing loss about 70 dB. I was fitted with a hearing aid at age three in my better ear.

My fascination with music began early on. So, at age 7 I begged my Mom and Dad to get a piano because I wanted to learn how to play the piano. I’m not exactly sure why I did this but I think it’d be fun and cool to be able to play the piano. Of the three of us siblings, my younger sister and older brother, I was the only one who continued to practice on the family piano while growing up. Over the years I had fun performing at piano recitals though I didn’t take much stock in the fact that I was a hard of hearing kid who can play the piano and that I probably stood out from the rest of the people there.

At about age 11 my first piece was a simplified version of “The Entertainer” - a widely popular and recognizable Scott Joplin ragtime piece. And during my early teen years I re-discovered ragtime when my piano skill progressed even more to the point of playing more complicated and original ragtime piano pieces such as Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer, The Cascades, Original Rags and so on. It was that weird and intoxicating music that hooked me.

Much of my young life has been rather a musical one. I can play any instruments if I wanted to since I am able to hear all range of musical notes with the help of my hearing aid. I’ve played the violin, taught myself to play the saxophone to the point of being good enough to play in a middle school band, played the drums, and xylophone in middle and high school bands. I was in a marching band in high school and I was the bass drummer where we competed in marching band competitions in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. And at one time I played the piano for an audience on a theater stage while in college belting out Maple Leaf Rag. Ironically, it was at Gallaudet University, a school I attended while as a student. Despite all that my main musical instrument has always been the piano.

My love for ragtime stayed with me even while as I was absent from ever touching a piano during my college days (with on occasion the opportunity to practice but not as much as I have wanted and without the distraction of education) and while raising a family. My time was limited but did what I could whenever I came across a piano. In that absence I read books on ragtime and the people who played ragtime, and collected ragtime piano sheet music whenever I could. What was a big help during my graduate college days at University of Idaho was the availability of pianos on campus and the famous Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival held annually on campus. The internet over the last several years has made it easier for me to learn and experience more about ragtime, the people (new and old), the history, and the music through YouTube. It has given me blogging opportunities, allowed me to become involved in a ragtime discussion forum and provided a way to download lots of free ragtime music sheets dating back to the early 1890s.

My time finally came in December 2008 when I decided it was time to buy myself a new piano and not have a broken down piano to worry about. I decided upon a goal to get back into ragtime with fervor and become the first known deaf ragtime pianist. It will take some time, gradually and slowly for sure as I branch into other well know ragtime composers such as W.R. McKanlass, Charles Leslie Johnson, George Botsford, Holmes Travis, and many other well known and not so well known composers, including the early jazz pieces like Jelly Roll Morton.

Over time I was finally able to get to the point of practicing 4 or 5 hours a day if I wanted to. Though my normal, ideal, amount of time is about 2 to 3 hours a day due to the challenge of finding the time to play when my kids are not around. It will take some time to get all of my piano coordination and skill back on track. I may be a “natural” in some sense but it sure doesn’t feel like it. There is a 25 year gap I’ve got to catch up on. My sight reading is getting easier nowadays whenever I come across a new ragtime music sheet pieces though by no means can I whiz right though them, yet. There are thousands of ragtime sheets out there, many of them available over the internet. I collect them for my growing ragtime portfolio both in electronic format and hard copy. My goal is to play as many of these ragtime pieces and memorize some of them when I can. Someday I'll eventually move into early Jazz pieces (e.g. Jelly Roll Morton) and stride piano (e.g. Fats Waller) but for now it’s all ragtime and lot of catching up to do.

My challenge nowadays is to find other ragtime pianists that I could associate myself with and keep my interest high on playing the piano on a daily/regular basis. When I moved to Washington in June of 2009 from New Mexico I learned about the Portland Ragtime Society group in Portland, Oregon which turned out to be a 45 minute drive from my house. This group meets and plays ragtime together once a month at a public eatery that supports a piano. Currently we play at the Elevated Coffee in Portland. Other challenges include the continuing documentation of my progress in my Ragtime Piano! blog. I am always on the lookout for more deaf or hard of hearing pianists. And when I do find one I try and learn about the person and document it in my blog. Future challenges are to try and attend ragtime festivals like the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri (June 2 - 6, 2010) of which I will be going. A deaf-owned company is sponsoring my trip (see story here). All in all I plan to include more videos for my blog and on my YouTube channel, interviews on ragtime pianists, and anything else I can do to increase my focus and interest on ragtime and piano playing. The internet is a big help and a valuable source of my continued learning. There are lots of strategies I can do to help with my interest in my playing the piano and ragtime. But I sure hope I have lots of fun getting there.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Wow, what a wonderful story, Mike.