a peek inside the fishbowl

02 Oct, 2017

A story about me and music, with some sad parts but a happy ending

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

I’m not very musical.

When I was five or six I got an electronic keyboard for my birthday. It was pretty cool. I could make music! It was PURPLE and portable, and I remember spending hours sprawled out on the living room floor, picking out the notes to Mary Had a Little Lamb and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Another childhood memory from around the same time: my father played the guitar, and he was pretty good. Guitar playing and singing folk songs around a campfire is a pretty big deal in the Czech tradition and my parents carried it with them when they immigrated to Canada. One time, I remember him playing a song and singing. It was just my parents and me in the living room. He was strumming and singing, and to me, the song sounded like it could be an echo song, the kind where you sing a line and the other person repeats it. He sang for awhile, with me, interjecting where I thought it was fitting. We sounded beautiful and I was very happy to weave myself into the music and be part of it. It was going very well (or so I thought) until he told me to be quiet and stop singing. In hindsight, I recognize that he was probably just trying to learn a song and I was being a pest, but his words really stung.

I liked to sing. In fourth grade, we had a music teacher named Mr. Allard who taught us songs that I’d never heard of, like Yesterday by the Beatles, and The Logical Song by Supertramp. He also taught us a radical song called TODAY. I think he made it up, but we loved it. It had lots of wild piano accompaniment and went like this:

I don’t want to go to school today.
I said today. TODAY.
I think I’ll stay in bed today.
The teachers ain’t cool, with all their rules,
Mama won’t you let me stay home, TODAY?
*piano solo*

We screamed this song at the top of our lungs and shook our hair LIKE HEAVY METAL SUPERSTARS during the piano parts.

In high school, we had to choose between band and vocals. I went with vocals. I was a loud singer. I remember heads turning in the front row to see who was belting out the tune in the back row. I think I was in ninth grade when I sang Ave Maria, which I loved, at a school assembly. I sang it with two other students, in a gymnasium packed with parents. Even at that time, I had a feeling I was given this special privilege because I was a good student and a hard worker, not because I was a particularly good singer. Because I know I’m not a good singer.

I have never, in my life, sang karaoke. I secretly fantasize about getting up on stage and belting out a tune and blowing everyone out of the water, but (a) I’m way too shy to do that and (b) I could never ever do that.

Some of you might remember a post I wrote around my birthday about growing and learning. To summarize: I’ve made a commitment to learn something new every year. This year, it’s the ukulele.

The ukulele is a pretty red thing we bought for the youngest when she was in her elementary school ukulele club many moons ago. But guess what, it’s been sitting in her closet ever since.

I downloaded a nifty app to help me tune it (it would be impossible for me, otherwise) and got to work. Every night I close the bedroom door and practice my chords. Sometimes it’s just ten minutes, other nights it’s an hour, or I start off saying “just ten minutes” and the next thing I know it’s time to go to bed. And you know what’s weird, I’m actually making music! I have a long way to go, a long long way to go, that’s certain, but sometimes the chords actually sound like chords. Chords I can eventually put together and make a song out of. (!)

And strumming patterns? WHO KNEW. I feel like I’m learning so much here, and that’s only one part of why I’m enjoying it so much.

Some observations:

  • It has been surprisingly easy to find the time to do this. The good news: I’m watching a little less Netflix. The bad news: I desperately need to catch up on my laundry.
  • I’m fascinated by the idea of achieving something with tiny, incremental effort. Journeys of a thousand miles begin with one step etc. The “baby steps” frame of mind is something I’ve tapped into other times too, such as when I trained to run a 5K, wrote my book (er, I’m still working on that one) or lost weight. Small changes are actually big changes in disguise because they add up. This is how I’m approaching ukulele practice too.
  • I know a few chords. I even have favourites (imma looking at you C and G)!
  • The tips of my left fingers are numb all of the time, but hey, that’s a small price to pay, right?

I’m happy to be finding my way back to music in a way, even though it’s been a very bumpy road so far.

2 Responses to "A story about me and music, with some sad parts but a happy ending"

1 | Jen_nifer

October 2nd, 2017 at 8:18 pm


Congratulations on your ukulele progress!

Is it possible that the Mr. Allard’s “Today” song borrowed the tune from Neil Diamond’s “America”?

2 | andrea tomkins

October 3rd, 2017 at 8:03 am


I had to look that up on YouTube! My goodness. Neil Diamond! Talk about a different era. :) But no, there is no similarity between Neil Diamond’s song and Mr. Allard’s composition.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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