Trees in Fog and Snow at Colorado National Monument
The very first thing I ever wanted to be was a pianist. I must have seen someone playing the piano on TV, like on The Lawrence Welk show or something. I might have been 4 or 5 years old at the time. We didn’t have a piano at that early stage of my life, but we did get one later. In fact, I briefly took piano lessons when I was 8 or 9 years old. I didn’t enjoy them. My parents rented a piano from a local music store and signed me up for lessons. After a few months it was pretty obvious that I didn’t want to take piano lessons and I didn’t enjoy it, so they told the music store to come get the piano and they did.
Then, when I was about 12 years old, a guy from a music store in a nearby town was making the rounds in my neighborhood trying to get kids signed up for accordion lessons. Mom thought it might be a good idea to get me SOME kind of music instruction, so she signed me up and rented an accordion from the salesman. At this point in my life, I had a bit more interest in reading music, but not a lot more. I took accordion lessons every week and the lady who lived across the street signed one of her kids up for lessons as well, so I had someone to practice with.
The first thing I noticed was that I could use the accordion music books to learn to play the piano. At this point, we had an old player piano out in the garage, and I played it every. Single. Day. For years! But I really learned how to play the piano because I took accordion lessons. Once again, after a couple of months, Mom chose not to renew my contract for accordion lessons, and I was on my own with the piano again. Dad thought it was cheesy for a young girl to play the accordion anyway, so he bought me my first guitar soon after, and I started taking guitar lessons. I would say I took lessons for a few months and learned a bunch of chords. Now I was free to accompany myself as a singer, which is really what I wanted to do, so I quit the guitar lessons as well. But I kept playing the guitar and singing and I kept playing the piano as well, but these instruments were used primarily as accompaniment for singing.
As a teenager, and even through my twenties, I played at various churches and for local civic organizations who invited me to sing and play at their events or after their luncheons. I never thought much about it at all, it was just a part of who I was at the time. It’s what I did.
In fact, I sometimes complained to older, more spiritual people (I thought at the time) that I didn’t feel I was contributing to the most important part of a service or event, and that my music was just a kind of “fluff.” I remember at least one minister reminding me that King David himself was a musician in King Saul’s court before David rose to the throne. He played the harp, and he wrote many psalms and spiritual songs, which were for God’s praise and for the healing of the people and that, in any procession, the musicians always go first. In 1 Samuel 16:23 it says this: “So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.” Talk about soothing the savage beast! Well, this seemed like a good explanation. I continued playing and singing. Although I dabbled in many other art forms over the years, including drawing and painting, writing poetry, songs, and stories, as well as some crafts such as sewing, weaving and needle arts, music remained my main artistic and creative outlet for most of my life.
Secondarily, but now I would say firstly, I was and am a photographer. My parents gave me their old Kodak Brownie camera some time in the late 1960’s. I was still a kid, maybe 10 or 11 years old. I couldn’t take too many pictures though, because in those days, you needed film and you needed to be able to take it in for processing. This proved to be a limitation for me since I used my babysitting money to feed my photography habit back then. I took the usual kid pictures of me and my friends. I took my camera to the beach and got sand inside it. I don’t think it ever fully recovered after that.
Eventually, I worked my way up to a 35mm Nikon film camera. I used this camera for something like 30 years before it just had too many clicks behind it to keep going. By then, we were fully transitioning to digital photography, so when I was able to buy a new camera, I went digital. I now have 3 small cropped sensor Nikons that I use mostly because I don’t like changing lenses while out in the field. Someday, I’ll become a real photographer, and get a full frame Nikon or a Sony. But in the meantime, I’ve learned that fancy equipment doesn’t make a person a photographer, a musician, or any kind of artist. This is true whatever art form you practice. You don’t need fancy top of the line equipment to do any of it. You do need something, but you don’t need to be sucked into the marketing plan of every gear company out there and you can throw peer pressure to the wind. But I digress…
Over and above the issues of peer pressure and consumerism, the other thing that often comes up in my life as an artist, is the question of artistic activism. I have literally been unfriended on Facebook by some people I liked otherwise, because I wasn’t doing whatever it was they thought I should be doing to affect the changes they wished to see in the world. They continually challenge me to send out postcards, knock on doors, or make phone calls in favor of one thing or another. It’s not so much that I’m against doing any of these things, but I do have other things that I do that I consider equally, if not more, important.
I have, at times, done some political canvassing, but the thrust of my life’s work lies in soothing the savage beast, not stirring up more controversy. Let me be clear: I am not apolitical. I do have my own beliefs about how I would like to see things develop around me. I’m not afraid to express those beliefs online or in person. But again, I feel the direction I’m mainly called to is more along the lines of spiritual and emotional healing and I feel this transcends whatever political or social issue may be playing itself out currently. I admit that at times I have been sucked into the drama of various political and social issues. The way the world is today, it’s easy to have that happen, but over time, I’ve reduced the number of politically leaning posts on my Facebook page for instance. I’ve found that these posts do very little to change anyone’s mind, although I usually feel better after doing it, at least temporarily.
At my church, we close each service by gathering into a circle, holding hands, and singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let It Begin with Me.” To me, the message in this song underscores the need to find spiritual and emotional peace within. We won’t have a more peaceful society until we are not at war within ourselves. It’s also understanding that no matter what we’re doing, there is no competition. We’re not here to compete, but rather, to share our gifts. No one can be me or bring what I bring to the table. Likewise, the same is true for you. Right now, there are millions of nature photographers, fine art photographers, wedding and baby photographers, musicians, and entrepreneurs of various stripes. That’s no reason not to do something, because what you bring to any endeavor is yourself and there’s no competition for that.
Do what you do, allow others the same latitude, and don’t sweat the small stuff.