How I Became a Musician, Writer and Poet

for Riverview Park Review March-April Issue 2018

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I've been asked by our editor to tell you how I 'became' the creative 'roles' above. I feel honored to have been asked. First, I began my life (4/18/1944), in Montreal's below Dorchester working class neighbourhood. My grandmother and grandfather had a rooming house on (what was), Overdale St.) I had no toys, just a teddy bear and twelve coloured blocks my granddad made me. There was an old Leach Upright on the main floor. My mother and I lived on the 4th floor. The basement was the kitchen and dining room. I was by myself most of the day, because my grandparents took care of me, while my mother worked at St. Pauler–Mitt Armaments plant.

My father was not 'around' until after the war. I was an early walker and talker, (speaking in complex and compound sentences at two). I discovered the excitement and wonder of sounds very early, beginning with finding the piano, making up my own stories, and adding the 'right music' to them. Granddad was very influential in my 'becoming' a musician, composer, writer, poet, because he read so many rhymes and stories to me, sang to me, and took me to many parks by streetcar. I had my singing voice by the age of 3. I experimented with many rhythms, furniture, pots,glass, metal, sounds my voice could make, and more, inside and outside our old home, and composed them together. Soon after granddad died of cancer, my mother, father and I moved away. I was heartbroken and afraid. I hardly knew my father, and was not close to my mother. My grandparents were my parents emotionally. First, we went to Sweetsburg, (Eastern Townships), for a short time, (no piano, no friends, no cousins, just fields), for a year, then to Montreal North to a tarpaper-imitation brick clad home near Riviere-des- Prairies, (10861 Leblanc St.). Having no children my age with whom to play, a pregnant mother, father working daily as a machinist, and in grief over being separated from my grandparents, I was glad that we had the Leach upright, and my few nursery rhymes, my imagination, and the radio. CBC was my lifeline, as was also CFCF for my mother and me. I heard good classical, pop, folk and swing jazz on both. I was introduced to ballet, tap and acrobat at age of 4, as well as beginner's piano, (my mother trying to teach me to read music and play simultaneously. I loved dancing and loved learning to play with both hands.

Mum didn't really know how to play piano, but she could read directions from the book. There was no music teacher in the neighbourhood until I was nine. She was a student at the Conservatoire, and taught in a home in Ahuntsic. I began school, with no social skills, frightened, awkward and bullied (physically and emotionally), but knew how to read books, print, sing and play piano at the same time. When we moved to Ville St. Laurent, (Dec.26, 1956), I began lessons with Isabel Davis, who put me through Mc.Gill Conservertorium exams every year. I disliked playing by memory. I'd much rather entertain audiences, share my music, sing and tell them why the music was written the way it was. My first performance (5years old), a church whole family event in Montreal North, was a recitation of "We'll All Wait Up For Santa", which gave me thunderous applause. My dance performances,(for two years only, and was the leader of my class), I enjoyed immensely. I loved playing for family friends who visited to play card games. I enjoyed singing and playing. I hated the exams. I began writing poetry at the age of nine, my first poem published was written at eleven years of age, in the St.Laurent High Annual, when I'd just turned thirteen. From that age, I began improvising in earnest. I could harmonize just about any melody, and turn hymns into 'parodies' of themselves!

© Diane S. Schmolka, February 2018
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