People first

14 Jan

ImageThe first week of January, someone told me that another hammered dulcimer player had moved to town. When I heard this news, I think I felt like some John Wayne-like cowboy– “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us. There’s only one paying St. Paddy’s Day gig in this town, and I don’t aim to let you have it…uh, yep.” Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Actually, what I realized was that I have gotten very lazy about learning new music. If you were to pull out an old Baptist hymnal, and name any familiar hymn from it, I could probably sit down and within a few minutes, work out an arrangement of that song on my hammered dulcimer and play it for you, even improvise a little bit too. When it comes to playing familiar tunes by ear, it is very easy for me to do. However, when it comes to sitting down and learning an unfamiliar tune written out in standard notation, it takes me much longer and my patience wears thin. Also, since the hammered dulcimer is an instrument that you have to play while looking at your hands and not a piece of music, then I feel like a bobble-head doll when attempting to learn written music. Look up at the music, look down at the hammered dulcimer to find the notes, look back up to the music, back down at the hammered dulcimer. It can be dizzying.

There has been one particular piece of music that I have wanted to learn for a long time, but I haven’t because I knew that I would have to sit down and WORK on it by reading and memorizing the music note for note. I have heard this piece several times over the years and every time I have heard it I have thought, “What IS that song? It’s so beautiful.” And every time I would check my CD to find the name of the song, I would see that it’s “Carolan’s Concerto.” The song is, to me, very beautiful, but not very memorable. Or maybe I should say it’s not very memorize-able. I have tried listening to it over and over before, to try and memorize the tune but it just did not stick in my head. Not like a Baptist hymn, anyway. So, I never bothered to attempt to learn it by the notes on the page. I just assumed that I would never be able to learn it because it didn’t make very much musical sense, in the same way that a song with words might.

“Carolan’s Concerto” is one of many songs written by Turlough O’Carolan in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. So, now I’m going to take a detour here and tell you about him and something that does relate to the purpose of this blog. Several places that I have found with descriptions of Turlough O’Carolan, or Carolan, as he and his friends referred to him, describe him as a blind, Irish harpist. The noticeable thing about these descriptions is that he is labeled first as “blind.”  Actually, the most memorable thing about Carolan was that he was an outstanding and prolific composer. He was a better composer than a harpist, apparently. But, some of these descriptions that I have read put “blind” first.

There has been a movement for at least the last two decades in the world of disabilities to move away from adjective-first language (i.e., disabled person, handicapped person, blind person, deaf person, autistic person, learning-disabled person, etc.) and move toward people-first language (person with disabilities, person with visual or hearing impairment, person with autism, etc.) Apparently, this shift to people-first language has been controversial in some communities, because for some of these communities, what others may call their “disability” is for them a source of culture and pride (for example, in the deaf and visually-impaired communities.) However, the shift has been welcomed in some other communities, for example, those people who have mobility-related disabilities. Not everyone wants to be defined, for example, by what they cannot do. I can understand that. I don’t want to be defined as that “short, bowlegged limping woman.” However, if I were a criminal, that description would be very handy to the police who might be looking for me. I mean, after all, that is the first thing you might notice about me if you saw me out on the street. I guess the more polite thing to say about me if you were describing me would be “the woman with bowlegs, a limp and short stature,” to use people-first language. Hmm…actually, that’s not so great either, I suppose. If you see me out on the street, just ask me my name and strike up a conversation. Then you can describe me as “that woman who is nice and whose name I can’t remember.”

Anyway, there has been a lot written on people-first language. Just Google that phrase and you’ll find many articles. The ones that I read were all very interesting. I understand the reasoning behind it all. People should be people first and their “otherness” should be secondary to the obvious fact that they’re human beings created in the image of God first. I also understand that there are some communities whose “otherness” defines who they are as people. I had a good friend many years ago who was deaf and was thrilled to invite me into her world and her culture of deafness and even more thrilled when I asked her to tutor me in her language. Her identity as a deaf person was very important to her. And while I do have an identity as a person with XLH, it is certainly not the defining thing about me, and it probably isn’t for many folks in that particular community. We are people with many talents and gifts and many characteristics. Yes, we have all those physical traits that come with the territory of having XLH, and it has probably influenced who we’ve become as far as personality is concerned (compassionate comes to mind) but who we are certainly is not limited to our medical diagnosis. That goes for all people, too. We are not solely defined by our professions, our race, gender, age, etc. We do love categories in the U.S.A., but hopefully each of us is way more multi-faceted than some box we check on a survey or census form.

So, back to the hammered dulcimer and Carolan’s Concerto. I found an arrangement of the song that I like, started learning it and within three days, I was playing the song. I discovered something new about myself in the process. The song turned out, for me, to be very memorize-able as long as I didn’t just limit myself to learning it solely by ear. I realized that there was a kind of three-legged stool necessary for me to learn this song, each leg being equally important. In addition to listening, I had to read the written music and also pay extra close attention to the visual patterns of the piece as I played it on the dulcimer. Now I am working on getting the piece up to speed. I needed to take a multi-faceted approach to learn this song, rather than limit myself to trying to learn it solely by ear. I found it sort of ironic that I really had to rely so heavily on the visual aspects of learning it on my instrument rather than my usual aural approach, when it was a song written by a composer who was blind. I’m rather pleased to discover that I am not nearly as impatient as I had judged myself, either. So, now I’m thinking I need to learn one song each month this way. I need to not be so lazy, and push myself to learn something that may require more brain power (and discipline) than normal. I guess I had sort of subconsciously self-labeled myself as music-reading challenged or rather, a person with music-reading challenges. Thank you, Turlough O’Carolan for a beautiful song that is worth the extra work to learn it. Now, I will be ready for that St. Paddy’s day gig. Uh, yep.

Copyright 2013-2018, S.G. Hunter and Banjogrrldiaries


6 Responses to “People first”

  1. oceandepths42 January 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Love this one, you are a gifted writer.

    • banjogrrldiaries January 14, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

      Thank you! That means a lot coming from a fellow blogger/writer!

  2. Barbara Ledbetter January 15, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    Sheila, I love reading your blogs. Since I ususally read “my computer stuff” in the mornings, it was a good way to start my day. I can’t wait to hear Carolan’s Concerto! Love ya, Barbara

  3. Pegi Sears Pike February 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

    So, maybe it seemed (to you) that you were “music-reading challenged” because you are so overly gifted at learning music by ear. I, as you know, have always needed a “visual aid” to help me learn music!

    You are always an inspiration…

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