I was fortunate to begin music lessons at the same age as many of the children I now find myself teaching. When I was three I began taking piano lessons from Mrs. Annabelle Boyd in my hometown, Meridian, MS. My mother had taken from her, as did most of the town. By the time I reached her she had been teaching music for over fifty years. Her family was engulfed in music.
Her brother, J.B. "Mutt" Peavey owned Peavey melody music, and Hartley Peavey, owner ofPeavey Electronics, is her nephew. Her enthusiasm for a skill learned or recital piece mastered never truly matched her age. She was excited to see each child walk thru the door, and pushed all of us hard with praise and sometimes cookies. I took lessons from Mrs. Boyd until she stopped teaching just shy of her death, at the age of 93. I was twenty-six at the time, and toward the end of her life I felt more like a child of hers than a student. When she passed, I learned she had left me the piano that I and so many others had learned on. She began teaching on this piano, and used it exclusively throughout her career. It sits in my music room now and the many names of the children she taught can be seen etched in the wood when the sun hits it just right. It goes without saying this woman influenced me greatly.
I don't just play piano. When I was eleven, I found my dads old clarinet in our basement. I didn't know what it was, but remember being fascinated to learn it could produce music. My parents signed me up for seventh grade band, and I soon found my instrument of choice. I was naturally better on the clarinet than the piano, and excelled quickly. I competed all over the south and placed in the Lion's Band of Mississippi all three years of high school. By tenth grade I was taking lessons from the the clarinet professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, Wilbur Moreland. His talent for instruction is amazing, and many of the analogies and tricks of the trade I use to teach someone came directly from him.
Also in tenth grade, I was in a car accident, and developed epilepsy. I am allergic to the main epilepsy drugs on the market, so controlling my seizures was not an easy task for the many physicians who cared for me. Essentially, I had an average of five seizures a week. I was given a seizure alert dog who went with me everywhere, just as a seeing eye dogs serves a blind person.
This continued until I was thirty, and a new drug was developed that finally controlled my epilepsy. I tell you this only because it is very hard to understand my educational and musical history without that knowledge. I still was able to accomplish a lot, but sometimes at a slower pace than a healthy person. Also, my accomplishments were only possible by the sacrifice and goodness of those around me who loved me, and wanted to see me have a normal existence no matter what. The majority of those people barring my family were my music teachers and fellow band mates. Often, my clarinet went with me to the hospital where I practiced. I connected to themusic, and loved playing so dearly that it was sometimes that factor that kept me pushing myself, even when things looked grim. That experience is always in the back of my mind, and one ofmy goals of teaching it to offer another child or adult experiencing physically limitations gift of music. Even if it is just through performing for them. Now that I have explained that, I will continue with my musical history, and how I came to learn the other instruments I play.
My service dog and I went to college at USM on a full music scholarship and majored inMusic Education. After two years of classes, it began to sink in that I would not be realistic to keep pursuing this goal as the seizures were still not under control. Recital class and concerts could not easily be made up, and my frustration was high. I changed my major to biochemistry,and decided to pursue a career in the health field with hopes of getting better one day. It was easier to learn from a book than a rehearsal, but my heart was heavy to be out of the performance loop. Shortly after that, I met a guitar player who had a regionally successful avant garde band and needed a piano player. I was a young classically trained musician, and felt above "gigging" but music was music, so I jumped in. I soon learned that my snobbery was misplaced, and that there was no sheet music for the bands that played in the bars at night. After many months of struggle, the guitar player finally ripped the chord book out of my hands, and I began my path on playing by ear as opposed to reading notes.
This group of musicians were special indeed, and didn't mind the hassle of caring for me when I had a seizure. They also would purchase different instruments at flea markets and pawnshops and encourage me to try to play them. Because of their encouragement, I now play accordion, harmonica, flute, and sing vocals. It was not difficult to learn due to the foundation I had on piano and clarinet. We named ourselves Dollar Book Floyd, and recorded the album Red and White in 2001. The album did well regionally, and we toured the south playing over 200 gigs.
My service dog went with us, so we were quite an intriguing group of folks. We stayed involved with the disability community, playing many benefits for the Epilepsy foundation, L.I.F.E ofMississippi, and the Institute for Disability Studies at USM.
In 2003, my health began to get worse. I became discouraged and convinced I would never get better, and quit touring with the group. I played a little bit in Jackson,MS at different events,but markedly less than I ever had before. My service dog, Princess, was growing old, and I was growing more ill. In 2007, my service animal passed away after fourteen years of service. As I dealt with a surprising amount of sorrow and grief, efforts were being made by others to find another service animal that could do what she did. During that time, just a few months after she left this earth, a new epilepsy drug hit the market. It worked. Although I went into the hospital with no hope, I came out with control of my seizures.
I was elated, but also terrified, so I moved back to Meridian to be near my parents. It took a little while to get acclimated to healthy life, being that I had at that point never driven a car, held down a full time job, or done things I wasn't even aware I was missing. Soon after moving home though I began playing music in my hometown. It truly was the only thing about me that felt familiar. I started slow, playing at various nursing homes for the residents there. Then I began playing with Al Brown, a local musician here in town. After introduction into the scene, and considering the musical toolbox I carry, I have now played gigs with almost everyone in town whois making a living playing music. I've been playing locally for three years, and in the past year have played more gigs than I could have ever imagined I would five short years ago. This has included monthly regular gigs at Weidmann's and Squealars restaurant, all the way to playing at the Historic Temple Theater with Grammy nomimated, Dove Award winner Kim Hill lastNovember. Steadily througout these past few years, I have been playing in the preschools and elementary schools again, teaching various things from the history of Jimmy Rodgers, to performing and teaching about the instruments I play.
I am a musician. Those four words make me feel blessed beyond measure. Even though I pursue other avenues to pay the bills and keep life stable, I don't do anything else vocationally that gives me fulfillment like performing. when asked how I find time with such a busy schedule to play so many gigs, my answer is always the same. Playing music enables me to tackle the nonmusical parts of life. It gives me peace, fills my soul, and keeps me sane. I basically have no choice, I have to play.
Contributed clarinet, piano, harmonica, flute and accordion.View CD on iTunes
Contributed clarinetView CD on iTunes
Contributed clarinet and accordionView CD on iTunes