Music was an integral part of my growing up. We were all given the chance to learn two instruments; the piano and an orchestral instrument. I broke the mould early and chose the cello and the guitar.
Practice was compulsory; thirty minutes on each instrument, twice a day, and it was a logistical nightmare making sure each child had their allotted space and opportunity. The solution was a timetable on the kitchen wall that would’ve put any airline to shame and, unlike many airlines companies; our system ran with precision control.
We all played in the local orchestra and also as a family group. The guitar became pivotal to my life and proved invaluable for ‘no piano’ gatherings ie the beach.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to learn music but we were also lucky, (in hindsight) that we lived in an environment that made it hard to quit or avoid practice. There are more distractions today and it’s much harder getting children to learn music and to stay with it.
I began singing and playing the guitar when I was about ten years old and I cut my performing teeth on the local talent quests or family parties. I have an early memory of singing ‘LA International Airport’ on the back of a truck, with my older sister, Elizabeth.
Someone lifted my next sister-in-line up onto the deck of the truck, and she played Fur Elise on the old piano, her little hands rippling up and down the keys. She was a huge hit and took the jar of sweets that were first prize. She was a good pianist, but she was also as cute as a button and clearly the crowd favourite. I learned many valuable lessons that day, not least being; don’t count your lollies until the jar is in your hands.
Over the years I’ve played many gigs with just my guitar for company but I’ve also enjoyed playing in duos and bands. Weddings and garden parties have been good opportunities for classical arrangements and I’ve played my cello in various ensembles as well.
Being part of a large musical family meant I was often able to join up with my siblings to play the gigs and on a few special occasions we have sung together as a family.
These days I sing on my own, or else I team up with my youngest brother, Leo Watson, who plays a mean violin. Our repertoire includes blues, jazz, covers and originals and anything else we find and love, as well as wedding and occasion songs.
I have been teaching cello and guitar for thirty ‘something’ years. I love the daily interaction with children and teenagers and I’m lucky that many of my past students still keep in touch.
When my sons were at school, I was very involved with their music, and consequently with the music departments at each level of their education. I helped coach school bands, classical ensembles, choirs and occasionally, solo performances. I was able to run guitar classes in many schools and I worked for years as an itinerant teacher.
There are few opportunities for young people to have contact with another adult — one on one, week after week — the way a young person connects with a music teacher. Parents who can give their children music lessons are giving them so much more than just the ability to play an instrument. Learning music stimulates parts of the brain that are related to reading, maths and emotional development. It also improves memory function; social connections; confidence and creativity. In short, it’s a gift.
Now that my sons have all left home, I am able to enjoy teaching more, as I don’t have one ear on standby for outbreaks of mischief or war in the kitchen.