Aqualung: A musical education


By Laurie Dujardin


I grew up in an isolated town in a valley surrounded by high mountains on Vancouver Island. Everything revolved around forestry as well as the pulp and paper mills, the putrid, all-pervasive stench of which hung over the town, day in and day out like a heavy shroud. Due to the heavy rainfall, it at least appeared as a beautiful green place, with huge trees and flowers and gardens. That which we call culture was sorely lacking and entertainment usually involved boating, camping or fishing along with woodsmen competitions of various sorts. There was also a LOT of excessive drinking followed by numerous bar brawls, again a type of competition to see who was the stronger.

By the time I entered high school, a sort of music guru had arrived in town. An Irishman, he carried himself with an air of dignity and was well-mannered and odd bird indeed! A bit like the main character in the play/film The Music Man, he was charismatic and passionate about the idea of music being a kind of cure-all for the ills of the community. People of all ages, who were previously without much to look forward to, got involved and got excited. It seemed that suddenly the whole town was filled with the sounds of music. At school, I found myself in a newly created Music Program, playing the flute, and my ambition was to become an orchestral flutist. There were times I would practice up to seven hours a day, what with all the classes, workshops, private lessons and rehearsals. As we became known, we travelled further and further afield for concerts and competitive music festivals. It was there I would win bursaries which would pay for private tuition as well as summer fine arts camps and schools.

My world expanded hugely through music and the benefits are almost too numerous to detail, but I did get my first and only job as a professional writer because of it. I always loved to write and I loved fashion, so one day I got the crazy idea to approach our local tiny newspaper with a proposal to write a weekly fashion column for pay, which would be used to further my musical education. I was thrilled when they accepted what I believe was eight columns in advance at a rate of either twenty-five or fifty dollars each . Yet beyond that, I gained self-worth and pride in my accomplishments. I learned self-discipline and teamwork. We music students seemed somehow exempt from the cliques and bullying around us. We seemed more mature and less likely to be involved with drugs, drinking or vandalism. Recently, I've even heard that studies in neuroplasticity show that people who have learned to play a musical instrument display a higher level of intelligence, although which KIND of intelligence I'm not sure! Even though I finally decided to stop pursuing a professional career in music (mostly due to worsening stage fright), all the wonderful gifts that music brought me have never left me, and I know that music will always be my best friend that will never desert me . It continues to bring people and experiences and joy to my life that would otherwise be lacking, and I know how much I have to be grateful for because of that passionate music man so many years ago.

There is a rather funny ending to this history. Several years after I grew up and left town for the big city of Vancouver, I heard that my music teacher had simply vanished one day. Turns out he had left his wife and six kids to run off with a local opera singer, a glamorous blond who was also married. It must have been about twenty years later when I was channel-surfing TV and came across a frail and very elderly man, wearing what looked like his underwear and doing yoga-type headstands. Something about the odd-looking man caught my attention, and then the announcer was saying this was (insert former music teacher's name), Fitness Guru to the Elderly! I was shocked but touched to see that he still emanated the old joy and passion for what he was doing. His light had not dimmed at all. Later I learned he'd lived until the age of ninety, in perfect health and happiness, a happy ending indeed!

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