Profiles of Musicians: Everyday People
Growing up in the farmland of Halifax County, my grandpa was the product of Friesian and Alsatian immigrants who had wandered all over the US. Life was filled with contradictions. The little boy who would grow up to become a policeman and a carpenter, got off to the odd start of having his hair kept in sausage curls until age 6. The photos would mortify any young boy today. But when it came to music, the family felt that lessons were inappropriate for boys and only the girls were trained.
This little boy was curious, though, and would listen in on his sisters' lessons to glean as much as he could. Some of it was pretty clear. Sometimes he had to fill in the blanks himself. The result was that he became an accomplished pianist and violinist on his own, playing both classical and country music. While only self-educated, he would go on to teach quite a bit to his three children--including the fact that your skills are only the starting point of being a real musician. My mother quotes him as telling her that there's no point in trying to make music "if all you're going to do is hit the notes."
My mother studied piano (and later organ) formally, but learned from Grandpa to work things by ear. Many of the tricks that I pass on to my own students are those which she learned from him, expanded on, and passed on to me as a child. For example, I was never a good pianist, but she taught me a universal method of making up my own left-hand part to the melody of my choice. Some translation was necessary, though. As a self-taught musician, Grandpa Cramer had his own nomenclature for things. He described chordal harmony in terms of four 'changes."
1st Change = I chord
2nd Change = V7 chord
3rd Change = IV chord
4th Change = V/V (secondary dominant) chord
Even as his hearing began to fade, he stayed an avid fan of all music and once took my mom to see violinist Jascha Heifitz, who he referred to as "Jessica Heffitz." My Mom tells me that his favorite songs included The Lorelei, and Under the Double Eagle. Both of his sons took to music as well with his eldest dabbling in the mandolin and playing with drumsticks (he would later be the organist aboard his Navy ship). His youngest son was a fine pick-style guitarist who hung around the Old Dominion Barndance and copped licks off players like Joe Maphis.
Here on the left is Grandpa Cramer jamming on violin with his sister Florence. With sausage curls gone, and long pants in place, perhaps his parents were a little more comfortable with their budding musician.
My own hope for every student who enters my studio is that they will gain the skills necessary to do for themselves and their offspring what my Grandpa Cramer did for us.
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