Updated: Jan 3
"The sound of music is music to my ears." - Kent Slocum
Two Kinds of Music
As far as I am concerned, there are two different kinds of music: music performed by myself, and music performed by others. While this way of looking at the sonic landscape may seem overly
reductive, it is a helpful framework for sharing my personal musical experiences and how they shaped my musical preferences. My hope is that I will be able to introduce you to some new sounds and genres of music that perhaps you've never heard of or considered listening to.
Music Performed by Myself
From a very young age, I have been immersed in music. Starting with basic homeschool songs to help me learn vowel sounds and spelling rules (Junior Phonics, in particular, made a big impact), my parents were determined to teach me the basics of music. Thanks to my parents' patience, they taught me to read and play music on the piano, which is a crucial first step in music performance because it does not require learning breathing techniques, unlike wind instruments. My ability to play piano was particularly useful when I served as music leader for two years at a local AWANA club. It can be difficult to explain, but there is a huge difference between simply playing music on a CD player and having a live accompaniment on a piano. The AWANA clubbers understood the difference, and my playing the piano made a huge improvement in the way they acted, sung, and reacted to the music.
After I expressed interest in playing the saxophone, my parents decided to test my resolve by first requiring me to learn a much simpler (and less expensive) wind instrument: the recorder. I learned quickly, moving to a rented saxophone shortly after. As a result of nearly a year practicing on the saxophone, I auditioned for the local Shasta Middle School Jazz Band. To my surprise, I was selected to join, even though I wasn't attending public school. As a result, I spent two full school years practicing for a hour every weekday morning with a full jazz band and an additional hour performing with a symphonic band. This valuable experience taught me the importance of professionalism, dedication, and teamwork. Those middle school bands traveled across the Pacific Northwest, winning multiple performance awards and honorable mentions at festivals from Newport, Oregon to Bellevue, Washington.
One interesting result of this middle school band experience was a crash-course introduction to other instruments. Each school year, our band leader required all band members to try a different instrument for an entire week. As a result, I learned the basics of playing the trombone and gained a new appreciation for musicians who play brass instruments. Despite this cross-cultural instrument exchange, I still don't appreciate bagpipes. One thing I do appreciate, however, is the amazing music performed by some of the greatest jazz masters. Here's an album that I think you'll love (and I can guarantee no one has recommended to you). Just for comparison, I have also created a playlist of several of my middle school jazz band performances. I invite you to watch, listen, and enjoy!
Music Performed by Others
My earliest recollection of hearing music is a cassette tape that my parents played for me each evening just before bed. On this tape were a variety of poems, stories, and songs that my parents had recorded themselves reading and singing. I can still remember many of the songs on that tape cassette. Another early memory is the phonograph player that Mom would use to encourage me to clean up after playtime each day. She would often put the vinyl record of the Walt Disney Pictures film "Mary Poppins" on the turntable and place the needle at "Just A Spoonful of Sugar." Then, she would set the turntable speed higher than normal playback speed and tell me that I needed to finish cleaning up before the song was over. The peppy tune and vague suggestion of consequences for not cleaning up in time certainly motivated me to put everything away in its place. In the car, my parents would always set the radio station to K-LOVE, which further immersed me in Christian contemporary music. We would often be driving to church, where I was encouraged to join the adults for the main service and sing along with the worship music, even though I wasn't a great singer. My church also hosted summer Vacation Bible Schools, where we learned and memorized new songs such as this one by the end of the five-day camp. This introduced me to camp-style songs, which my Mom also taught me from her many memorable years of camp. Once I started attending AWANA Bible clubs, I developed a new repertoire of songs, primarily based on Scripture. Because I was often the one playing these songs on the piano, they naturally tended to feature fairly simple chord progressions with singable lyrics.
However, I didn't develop a real playlist of favorites until I got my first hand-me-down desktop computer. This allowed me to begin saving and organizing digital tracks downloaded from the local library's catalog of free-to-download music. At first, most of the songs to which I listened were soundtrack from movies I had never even watched. Since most film soundtrack does not feature vocal tracks, it was especially good at helping me focus on completing my homework. Over time, much of this instrumental soundtrack also came from video games. Although I primarily play point-and-click PC games such as the Return to Mysterious Island and Nancy Drew series, I also listen to soundtrack from mobile games like PinOut and games I have never played like Teardown. Not all of the music on my playlist is from movies and video games, however. Some tracks are inspired by books like The Electric State, while others come from albums like Soul Lotta Sunshine, intended for use by podcasters and YouTubers. While working as a custodian at Black Diamond Camps, I tended to listen to bouncy, punchy Christian-contemporary songs that gave me energy to complete highly physical tasks such as washing windows, cleaning bathrooms, and vacuuming. On the othre hand, I had the incredible opportunity to listen to out-of-this-world music playing in Oga's Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge while I was working at the Disneyland Resort. But music isn't the only thing to which I listen.
Now that I work for the University of Oregon as a custodian, I listen to quite a few podcasts, which keep me informed and entertained. Many of my favorite podcasts have excellent music and sound design, including Twenty Thousand Hertz, which is a podcast dedicated to the world of interesting sounds. I also enjoy listening to Noah Hassenfeld's podcast soundtracks on Today Explained and Unexplainable. When it comes to film soundtrack, I am currently enjoying listening to the soundtrack from The Chosen, the world's largest crowd-funded media project in history (and best of all, you can watch it completely free on their website or mobile app!).
I hope that this blog post has not misled you to believe that I am an excellent musician. Far from it! Instead, my intention was to explain where my wide variety of music tastes have originated, as well as introduce you to some of my favorite songs (both those performed my myself and others!). However, this barely scratches the surface of the music performances I have participated in and enjoyed. If you desire to witness some truly exceptional musical talent, I recommend that you watch this video of the 2019 Disneyland Park All-American College Marching Band.