Music is a huge part of our mountain history. It came with us from the old country and the sounds of Ireland and Scotland can still be heard in it. It’s a subject I’ve visited here before (more than once actually) and no doubt I’ll light on it again somewhere down the road. I’m not particularly musical although I’ve always longed to be able to make music as my ancestors did. Childhood piano lessons have served a few congregations who were hard-up for a piano-player and my squeaky fiddle is a joy to me if no one else. Still I am determined. So I’m going to teach my children – or rather have them taught.
Ruthie kept asking to play my fiddle so a tiny instrument was under the Christmas tree this year. Caleb got his guitar last Christmas and we’ve been making a little progress on it.
T.E. Hixson was my Great-Great-Grandfather and he made instruments and taught and played with his children and grandchildren. In fact, my grandmother remembers having child-sized instruments and hearing that with each birth he would declare what instrument the child would play and immediately begin making it for him or her. These precious toys were so commonplace in their home and family that when they moved out of the house they left them behind.
Grandpa Hixson’s children all played – in fact none of us knew my Great Grandmother (and his eldest child) could play until she was an old woman and I pulled out one of his fiddles. She took it in her hands and said, “I don’t know if I can even pick out a tune anymore.”
As we embark on this journey of teaching and learning, practicing and improving I’m thrilled every time I hear them pick up their instruments and make their own little music. And I can’t help but wonder what the Hixson home sounded like all those years ago. As the day’s work wrapped up and a calm moment could be found, did different ones go back to their guitar, mandolin and fiddle? Did one hear a few notes picked out and immediately want to join in? Can’t you see the living room with one young son on his guitar and a sister comes trotting in, fiddle in hand?
Yet I know that they were not immediately proficient at the art. There would have been years and years of missed notes, squeaky licks and slow improvement. Were Grandma and Grandpa excited to hear their little musicians trying and trying? Or did they grow tired of the noise and long to listen just to the birds or the crickets? I imagine it was a little of both. And how many times did Grandpa join in with the children? Was he more often the instigator of their family-jam-sessions?
Of course their day without televisions and tablets, phones ringing or texts dinging surely made it easier to appreciate the efforts their children were putting into music. It’s harder these days with so many things vying for our attention – not just the children’s attention but mine as well. And it’s harder still because we have to find a teacher and get to him at the appointed hour. How beautiful it is to imagine a father just slowly and quietly teaching his children, and teaching by example as he played each instrument.
I already know we’ll soon revisit the music of the mountains for I have a friend who has fiddles her grandfather handmade. I’m really looking forward to getting that great story and sharing it with you!