How did I first start in music?

 

I was first introduced into music by my father when I used to listen to his collection of 78 rpm classical records. Apparently I used to stand up ready to turn over the record even before it finished. Don’t forget a 78 rpm record only lasted about three minutes.

 

When I was eight years old I started piano lessons firstly from my father and very soon after from a Miss Yardley who seemed to me to be very old. The lessons cost two shillings (10p) in 1951. She did not believe in exams so I never took any at that time. On reflection it might have been better to have changed teachers after a few years. She taught me for about ten years and my sister, a few less. She did not like “popular music” so we only learnt classical.

 

At home the family used to play hymns around the piano If grandad was there he would play the piano, father would play his violin and my sister Susan and I would take it in turn to play either piano violin or recorders (descant treble and tenor). How we used to murder those hymns with more wrong notes than correct ones! However we had a wonderful time.

 

In 1960 the church that we attended had a new church building built complete with a two manual pipe organ. The organist was Fred Buxton, quite a well-known person in Coventry. Put a hymn book in front of him and he could play ten or more verses of that hymn and every one would be different. Take the music away and he was stuck.

He taught me to play the organ including the pedals. I was never very good, having failed grade 5 piano exams (twice) but I could play enough to get by as a deputy.

 

At about this time (1966) an article appeared in an electronics magazine on “How to build an electronic organ” by Alan Douglas. Having had an interest in electronics I decided to have a go. I had only made a small microphone mixer prior to this so I didn’t know much about it.

I slowly followed and identified each individual part on the circuit diagram, and I then went out and bought the bits and soldered them into what I hoped was the correct position. I can remember that the main transistors were called ZTX300 I hadn’t a clue what they did but I soldered them into place, all 130 of them, rather like following a jigsaw puzzle. In the end it worked!! This organ (2 x 61 note keyboards and a 30 note pedal board) was in fact not as sophisticated as some of today’s kids toys.

This small board generates the top 12 notes which replaces most of the picture above - 10 years later

In 1979, Maplins (the electronics store, not the holiday camp!) brought out an electronic organ circuit diagram complete with “knocker box” rhythm unit, so I broke up the first one and built this one. It’s the sort of project that is never quite finished, but it was playing after about four years.

 

My proudest moment with this one was when we took it into the church one weekend for a hobbies exhibition and ended up playing duets with Fred on the pipe organ during the Sunday services.

The keyboards that I have now are far better than my Maplin organ, but I haven’t got the heart to scrap it in spite of its size and the many long hours I spent finding all the faults.

Things do change & because of lack of space this organ has now been scrapped in 2008. A short time later a man from the isle of White rang me, saying he had been in touch with Maplins & they had taken his organ (which was not as complete as mine) to keep in their store. If only I had known.

1981 brought computers to the home market in the shape of the ZX81. This started my interest in computers. We (Tina and I) would spend all evening typing in a program to play a silly game. It was usually quite late when we finally got it to work so we would play it for a short time and then switch off the computer and start all over again the next night. We could never get our computer to save anything we had done!!

We changed the ZX81 for a Commodore 64. I bought a dummy piano keyboard that could be connected to the computer and found that I could play very simple tunes into the computer and this started the link between music and computers.

 

With the advent of MIDI, the Commodore got replaced by a very powerful computer, the Atari ST because it had built in midi ports.

The music program used then (1986) was Pro 24 which was in fact the predecessor to the Cubase series of sequencers.

 

I had a great time playing in to the computer a piece of music, part by part, correcting the mistakes and then converting it into a different arrangement as an instrumental piece, for the computer to play back to me via the keyboards that could now play 16 parts all at once.

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