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Column: Music lessons offer shared memories along with a little ability
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

The strum of open strings on a guitar transports me to a house on Lake Hartwell, where stringed instruments hang from a board on the wall.

The room smells like the stone fireplace that stretches to the ceiling. But the sounds are of my nana playing guitar.

In most of my memories, she’s playing songs she wrote herself — about family, faith or both. There’s a sad one about my grandpa’s “poor Uncle John” and another about an ancestor’s cane. When I turned 13, she wrote one called “Shannon, Oh Shannon,” which she later revised for my wedding day.

She and my grandpa used to own a music store in downtown Clemson where she taught lessons. It had closed by the time I was old enough to learn, which probably gave her more time to give me lessons when I visited. I learned the basic chords and simple songs from her like “Down in the Valley” by Burl Ives. 

At home, we also had a room with stringed instruments hanging on the wall. My mom’s classical guitar was often pulled down to play, and she used it when teaching lessons over the years.

I picked up some here and there, learning more chords and how to read tab so I could try to play my favorite songs. 

I also took formal piano lessons starting in late elementary school, though I would forever forget to play the right keys sharp or flat when the music was in any key but C.

In any case, I stuck with those lessons and later joined school choruses, where I performed better as a singer than I ever did as a pianist or guitarist. 

Studies show many children who learn music do better academically.

While that link between music and academics may have helped me, I’m grateful simply for the music — the ability to read it and play it. 

A Gainesville Middle School teacher recently purchased ukuleles for her students. The article points out that many children do not have the advantage of private instrument lessons.

One of my kids is going to start guitar lessons Monday.

There’s not always funding readily available for our kids to participate in extracurricular activities, though we’ve certainly paid out of pocket to join athletic teams in the past. 

I’m pretty excited to share music with this boy and especially excited that he’ll receive an instrument and lessons through the Amped Kids Foundation that helps provide music education to children in foster care. 

Learning an instrument takes time and patience, and, as I’ve already been reminded, tough fingers as they become accustomed to holding down the strings.

My guitar hangs on a wall at our house. Maybe I’ll pull it down a bit more as he learns.

We likely won’t be playing “Down in the Valley.” He’s already asked me to play “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, which I fumbled through. 

Meanwhile, my mother and nana are perfecting their own version of “Old Town Road.”

I’m fairly certain my nana wouldn’t have discovered that song on her own, but my mom enjoys rewriting lyrics at least as much as my nana enjoys writing original music. They recently performed a revised version for the continuing care facility where my grandparents live. The song begins, “I’m gonna take my horse to the old folks home.” 

My mom performs it on ukulele, which she plays much more than her guitar these days.

Maybe one day soon my kid can join in on guitar. 

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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