My musical adventures

by Simon Ager

My muscial menagerie (December 2012)

Music has always been an important part of my life and I come from quite a musical family: my mother plays the piano and sings in choirs, and has played the clarinet and guitar. My brother plays the trumpet and ukulele, and used to play the piano and trombone, and my sister used to play the piano, cello and recorders.

Recorder

My musical adventures started at primary school when we all learnt the recorder. I don't remember much about this, but at the time I think that I wasn't all that keen on it.

Piano

From the age of 7 to 12 I had piano lessons and learnt how to read music. I enjoyed playing tunes that I knew - things like themes from films and television programmes, but wasn't quite so keen on other things. I passed grade 1 then failed grade 2 and gave up the piano.

Clarinet, saxophone and bass clarinet

After giving up the piano I starting playing the clarinet. My mum had played for a while when she was at school and her clarinet had been sitting around in a drawer since then. I found it one day and decided to have go. I spent that summer trying to teach myself how to play, then my mum arranged lessons when school started again.

I had clarinet lessons until the age of 18, when I left school, and played in wind bands, big bands and and an orchestra. I also started playing the tenor saxophone in a number of groups, and for a while I had a bass clarinet, which I borrowed from the music school I went to on Saturday mornings and was great fun to play.

I passed grades 3, 4 and 6 on the clarinet and enjoyed playing it, especially in the groups. I continued playing during my gap year after finishing schoool and during my first year of university, though by then I wasn't having lessons and didn't play as regularly. During my second year at university I was in Taiwan, Japan and China and didn't take any instruments with me and got out of the habit of playing regularly. During my third and fourth years I was busy studying and unfortunately didn't have much time for music.

Tin whistle and harmonica

While I was at school I also started playing the tin whistle and got interested in Irish and Scottish music and Irish and Scottish Gaelic songs and languages. I also dabbled briefly with playing the harmonica while at university, though didn't get very far with it.

Long hiatus, then starting again

For many years after university I didn't play any instruments at all, though I did listen to a lot of music and sang to myself a fair bit. Then my musical activities started again in 2006 inspired by my visits to Ireland, where I've been going every summer since 2004 to study Irish language and songs. I started with the tin whistle, then got a low whistle, which I thought might disturb my neighbours less, and played folk tunes from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England and elsewhere.

Guitar

In September 2007 I started playing the guitar, at first a steel string acoustic, and later I got a classical guitar. I had lessons until I left Brighton in July 2008, and have continued to play ever since. At first I learnt basic chords and strumming patterns, then decided to learn classical style. I also taught myself to play the melodies of folk tunes.

Many more instruments

After moving to Bangor in 2008 I started playing recorders - descant, treble and tenor, and in 2010 I got myself a mandolin. In 2011 a ukulele found it's way into my home, and in 2012 I acquired a bouzouki, a bodhrán, bass and sopranino recorders and a piano. A family of ocarinas can also be found in various parts of my house.

In 2013 I acquired a melodica, an electro-acoustic tenor ukuele, a cavaquinho - a Portuguese instrument about the size of a soprano ukulele with steel strings, and a xaphoon or pocket sax. I also bought a small lever harp, which was on special offer and I couldn't resist, but returned it after realising that it wasn't a very good one and wouldn't stay in tune.

In January 2014 I treated myself to a electro-acoustic soprano ukulele, and decided to sell some of my other instruments - my clarinet, which I haven't played much for years, my bouzouki and xaphoon, which I rarely play, and my bodhrán, which I play, but plan to get a better one.

In April 2014 I bought a small lever harp, which is much better than the one I bought in 2013 - it sounds good and stays in tune, however I am already finding that 20 strings just aren't enough for the tunes I want to play, and am looking for a larger harp.

What do I currently play?

I play the ukulele in the Bangor Ukulele Society, where we play all sorts of songs - pop, rock, blues, folk, etc. There are few videos of us on YouTube. I have a music session at my house once a week where we play mainly folk tunes from all over Europe, plus some blue grass and old time tunes, and even some classical pieces, and I play mainly whistles, recorders, guitar and mandolin. I also play all my recorders in a recorder group, and regularly play the mandolin and whistles in another folk music session.

I aim to play at least some of my instruments every day, and keep a few of them in my study and often pick them up to play a tune or two while working.

My instruments

These are the instruments I currently own.

  • Cavaquinho - Portuguese cavaquinho from FolkReps
  • Flute - Tony Dixon one-piece flute in D
  • Guitars - Vintage V300 steel string acoustic guitar; Admira Sombra classical guitar
  • Harmonicas - harmonica in C by Hohner; harmonica in D by Lee Oskar
  • Harp - Pedran Bach 20-string lap harp by Pedran Harps
  • Mandolin - Ozark flatback mandolin
  • Melodica from Gear4Music
  • Ocarinas - alto, tenor and bass ocarinas by John Langley
  • Piano - Danemann upright piano
  • Recorders - sopranino, descant, alto and treble recorders by Recorder Workshop; bass recorder by Thomann
  • Ukuleles - Mahalo soprano ukulele; Stagg electro-acoustic soprano ukulele; Laka/Vintage electro-acoustic tenor ukulele
  • Whistles - high D whistles by Feadog and Michael Burke, high D/C/Bb whistles by Susato, low D whistles by Tony Dixon and Brian Howard

Note

The exams referred to here are run by the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music (ABRSM). Grade 1 is the easiest one, and grade 8 the hardest. There are insturmental exams for a variety of instruments for classical music and jazz, and also for singing and music theory, as well as diplomas in muscial performance, direction and teaching. To take practical exams of grade 5 and above you have to do grade 5 theory as well, which I did before taking grade 6 on the clarinet.

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