by Simon Ager
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My wind instruments
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.
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.
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 folk 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 2014 I treated myself to electro-acoustic soprano and baritone ukuleles, 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. I also bought a small folk harp, which is much better than the one I bought in 2013 - it sounds good and stays in tune.
In 2015 I bought a larger folk harp, another melodica, and a high D whistle with volume control.
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 also play in a recorder group, and regularly play the mandolin, whistles, and occasionally the cavaquinho or harp, in folk music sessions. I practise folk tunes on most of my instruments, and also play classical music on the piano and guitar.
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.
These are the instruments I currently own (see also the photo below). I can get tunes out of all of them, though some, like the flute and harmonicas, I rarely play and can't play very well, yet.
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.