Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is there such thing as a musical gene?

Coming from apparently a long line of musicians, this question begs asking. Is it true that musical talent is passed along? My father plays the guitar, self taught, can tune it by ear and can pick up almost anything else that makes music and play it. Although I could never play any instrument - I was the singer in the family, enjoying singing from the time I was a small child until I was in high school. My Grandfather wrote songs, my DH's grandfather was a very well known pianist and much sought teacher of piano. My kids all sing, some better than others, but they've all got the "gene" apparently. Lets face it, some people can carry a tune and others simply can't.

I'm driving my Grandmother home from shopping a couple weeks ago and the subject of kids playing instruments in school came up. One of my kids played the flute for one year - no longer interested so no, none of them are playing anything this year. I asked if she ever played an instrument -

"No, but my brother George could play the piano, just taught himself, never had lessons and could play any song he heard." Why couldn't I have gotten that gene?

And then she tells me about how her father Joseph Leeming played the piano for silent movies... WHAT? That's the kind of cool bits of information that pour out during casual conversation with your family members. Why didn't I already know this? It's not something that I would have thought to ask, and she never thought to mention. She couldn't explain if he actually worked at the theater or in a studio of some sort - I know nothing about silent movies and I'm assuming that the music was actually played in the theater while the movie was showing... ? Can someone answer that for me?

It pays to talk to the elders in your family. The wealth of information about your family history will go with them when they pass. Don't just stick to the facts, go off course a bit with open ended questions about what they did when they were kids, what was their home life like? Ask them if you can record it so you can go back to it later. Just have a casual conversation and the memories will flow from them like a river. I've got many hours of tape talking with my Grandma. I just know that when I sit down and listen to it all some day there will be some shining moment that I'll have gotten something from her that I didn't even know was there.

Thanks to Elyse over at her Genealogy Blog for the recent post about another casual conversation and a great story - she made me remember this little bit about my family and the times with my Grandma when I hear the family stories that make us laugh and sometimes cry.


  1. Wow - what a wonderful story!! I wish I could play a musical instrument too, but I am just HORRIBLE when it comes to music.
    My boyfriend on the other hand plays guitar, and he can tune his guitar on his own.
    I remember when I was about 9 years old a lady from my great aunt's church came over and played the piano. I learned so many new songs that day (too bad I don't remember any of them now) and the whole family sat around singing songs. From what I was told, it is exactly what my great grandparents used to do with their kids to keep everyone entertained and have some family time.

    Wow...I just rambled on. Lol. Thank you for the comments on my blog and the shout out on this post. I really appreciate it - and you are so right about having casual conversations. Those are what lead to the best stories.

  2. Cindy,

    I agree that a musical gene can run through some families and wrote about the musical gene in my family http://findyourfolks.blogspot.com/2008/04/musical-genes-in-my-family.html.

    It's amazing how we learn new information form our elders in casual conversations. I learn a lot in conversations either my 86 year old grandmother.

  3. An interesting discovery! There are probably several possibilities for playing piano for silent movies. Could have been an in-house pianist or possibly did recordings for movies - that might be something to check into (may be hit and miss since archiving of old movies is very haphazard). One of my husband's great-uncles who died young was a noted pianist; there are some recordings of him on old piano rolls.

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