Thursday, 9 March 2017
I recently had a chat with one of my students who is dyslexic. She explained to me that, whilst she feels she is clever, she has a very hard time demonstrating this on paper. She knows that she ‘gets’ things but she finds it difficult to express her ideas. If someone could see into her mind, she said, they would appreciate what she is capable of, but as long as her ability is gauged by her schoolwork, or by other such measurements of ‘success’, people will not know this.
I myself do not have dyslexia but there is a certain area in which I can empathise with my student. That area is music. I feel there is a huge discrepancy between my musical creativity and my ability to express this creativity in conventional ways – by singing, for example, or playing an instrument.
I’ve never spoken to anyone about this before, and I do not know how common this feeling is. Perhaps it is a kind of ‘musical dyslexia’. I constantly have tunes bouncing around in my mind, and I do not mean Coldplay or Mozart or whatever. I mean original compositions, tunes I have come up with myself. I am constantly playing percussion on any available surface, and am obsessed with making up little ditties. Perhaps it is a kind of tic. I could easily spend an hour in the shower, singing or humming to myself.
But I have never been ‘musical’ in a conventional sense. I was absolutely hopeless in music lessons at school. It didn’t help that the only music taught at my school was classical music, and that this was taught in an extremely dour way that seemed more akin to mathematics – tones, semitones, crotchets, quavers and all of that stuff. We had to play on pathetic little xylophones, and our teacher would bark at us if we made mistakes. I thoroughly hated music lessons, and used to put no effort in at all. I didn’t see the point.
As I got older I did take up a few musical instruments – clarinet, bass and guitar. I was even in a band for a while, but I was never any good. I could never for the life of me read music, and I didn’t have the patience to improve. It’s not that I didn’t, and don’t, enjoy playing the instruments; it’s more that I always felt inherently kind of crap at them, in the same way as my dyslexic student feels useless at reading and writing. The frustration, in other words, lies not in the fact that I am not musical, but that I am musical but unable to express it.
This feeling of frustration reaches its nadir when it comes to singing. I cannot sing with my mouth, but I can sing with my mind. This sounds very flowery I know, but that is how it feels. If someone could wire up electrodes to my brain and convert my mental compositions into actual songs, I would probably be a fairly successful musician. The creativity is there, but the ability doesn’t seem to be.