by Simon Ager
Music has always been an important part of my life and I come from 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.
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, and a cavaquinho - a Portuguese instrument about the size of a soprano ukulele with steel strings. 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. I'd still like to learn the harp, but have more than enough other instruments for now.
I currently play the ukulele in the Bangor Ukulele Club, where we play all sorts of songs - pop, rock, blues, folk, etc. 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 as many instruments as possible - whistles, recorders, guitar, bodhrán, mandolin and bouzouki. I also play all my recorders in a recorder group, and occasionally play in folk sessions.
I try to practise as often as possible - classical pieces on the piano and guitar, and folk tunes on other instruments (whistles, guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, piano and sometimes recorders), as well as some bluegrass and old time tunes on the mandolin, and tunes for songs I've written.
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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