Risky Regencies

Here’s to the amateurs

Amanda’s last post and the talk about RR amateur theatricals got me thinking. I’m not much into acting but there are other things I love to do as an amateur: various crafts and music. I play a Lithuanian folk instrument, the kankles (pictured below) and also play piano “a little” in the tradition of Elizabeth Bennett and Jane Eyre. Since my kids took up violin and piano I’ve been having a blast being a music mom, helping them as they practice and playing duets and trios with them.

Of course, all sorts of arts and crafts, amateur theatricals and music-making were popular among the upper classes during the Regency. Without the media we have now, they needed to find something to do in the evening. Jane Austen took music lessons into her twenties and carefully copied music into books she used to entertain herself and her family. These music books have inspired several recordings. I own one: Jane’s Hand: The Jane Austen Songbooks. Click here to listen to some tracks.

I get the feeling that many people nowadays do not do as much in the way of amateur art as they did in the past. We’ve got such easy access to professional quality art and music that perhaps we wonder if there’s any point in making our own. But I think there’s something special about doing it yourself, even if it will never bring money or fame. There are venues for amateurs: community theatre, church choirs, etc… and you meet some interesting people that way, too.

Now that I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month, I’ve met some local writers who are just having fun with it and not thinking seriously about publication at this stage. At a get together at our local B&N one of them confessed that her husband thought she was crazy for trying to write a novel. I asked her if he would have had the same reaction had she decided to take up piano or pottery lessons. We realized that for some reason a lot of people don’t understand writing for fun. People who wouldn’t think of asking a beginning guitarist when their first gig will be will ask a newbie writer when the book is coming out. It’s as if they don’t realize that it takes time to learn or that the process itself is rewarding.

I’ve always been career-oriented but my best writing happens when I pretend to be an amateur, when I shut off thoughts of the industry and write to please myself. I also think that my amateur craft and music activities are good for my muse–a chance to be creative without the pressure that seems to come with the writing.

So anyway, here’s to the amateurs out there! Let us know who you are and what you do. What do people think of your hobbies? How do you respond?


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15 years ago

Well, I like to think of myself as a very, very, very amateur astronomer. 😉 I read the magazines and look up every once in a while. LOL 🙂


Elena Greene
15 years ago

Very cool, Lois! My oldest child is into astronomy so we often go to the local Kopernik Observatory (best in the northeast). I try to be a good “astronomy mom” though I’m not as knowledgeable as I am in music. We have a small telescope but so far all we’ve attempted to look at is the moon and the Pleiades. Finding planets is a bit trickier. 🙂

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

From my young ‘un days through very early twenties I used to give solo violin recitals at school, university, whereever. Then I got interested in choral music and started taking voice lessons. I sang till my thirties when sinus troubles meant I could no longer sing the higher notes (soprano). History and reading have always been my hobby since childhood. Recently I’ve added stamping and scrapbooking to my interests, but they’re patchy at best. Right now, the best hobby I have are these boards and blogs that I visit every day.

Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

Singing is my amateur activity. I’ve had almost no formal vocal training, but I can read music thanks to high school band. (I played saxophone but had to give it up when I developed TMJ–sax and clarinet are hard on the jaw because of the way they force it back.)

Really I suppose I’m an amateur writer, since I haven’t sold a novel yet, but I don’t like to look at it that way. It’s not a hobby to me. It’s the career that means far more to me than my day job ever could, and I’m determined to keep working toward publication and never give up. Which makes music something of a refuge for me. My writing is bound up in so much angst, striving, hope and fear, but music just is. My voice and training are already good enough to sing alto in my church’s choir, and I’m satisfied with that.

Amanda McCabe
15 years ago

I’m so envious of all the musical people here! I love listening to music, and wish we still had musicales like in the Regency. Well, as long as I didn’t have to perform–I would sound more “Mary Bennet” than “Jane Fairfax”, LOL!

One hobby I enjoy, that really helps me get past blocks when I’m writing, is embroidery. Someone sent me a copy of a cross-stitch kit from the Victoria and Albert, based on a piece they own that was worked by Mary Queen of Scots. It’s very challenging!

Cara King
15 years ago

You know, my first impulse was to say “oh, I can’t sing, but I really wish I could.” But I think that’s sort of the whole point of being an amateur, isn’t it?

In “Little Women” and the Betsy Tacy books and so many others, ordinary folks just gathered around the piano and sang for fun. (Or sang while sleighriding or motoring or whatever.) It wasn’t performing — it was just fun. I wish we still did that!

Let’s see… I play a little piano, I do community theater, and some social dance (including English country dancing, of course!)

And I buy books. (That’s a hobby, right? I mean, anything that takes that much time and money and shelf-space, but yields no profit, must be a hobby, yes???) 🙂


Megan Frampton
15 years ago

I’ve been wracking my brain, but I don’t think I have any hobbies. Not even stuff I enjoy but don’t do very well.

A friend gave me knitting needles, an instruction book, and some yarn, and I do like doing it, but it’s not something I am yearning to do. The clump of half-finished scarf has been lying on the floor next to my bed for months now.

Diane Gaston
15 years ago

I’m afraid my hobby is collecting Regency research books……

15 years ago

Okay, my hobby is the same as Cars’s (I buy books) and Diane’s (I have started collecting Regency research books.)Writing used to be my hobby, but since the Avon FanLit event it has become the career I want to have for this half of my life. I was a singer for the first half. I want to be an author for the second half. I do quilt, tat and cross-stitch for my own pleasure and for really great personal and inexpensive Christmas gifts.

15 years ago

My day job is my hobby.
Only I think they’re starting to catch on. (After three years.) *grin*
Time to start looking for another “hobby.”

15 years ago

I guess reading comes in as my number one hobby by, like, a lot. 🙂 But I love theater, too; and in recent years Cara and I have danced semi-regularly.

I’ve tried lots of things over the years, some of them fairly seriously, but it’s hard to keep up with all of them. So I can’t really claim most of them for hobbies, except in a very abstract sense.

And this semester I’ve added a new hobby: tearing my hair out from the stress. 🙂 But it will All Be Over Soon. Just another month or so…


Elena Greene
15 years ago

Susan, you are working like a professional so you are one in my book. And I so understand music as a refuge.

In “Little Women” and the Betsy Tacy books and so many others, ordinary folks just gathered around the piano and sang for fun. (Or sang while sleighriding or motoring or whatever.) It wasn’t performing — it was just fun. I wish we still did that!

This is very much what I’m talking about, Cara. The nice thing is I’m starting to do this sort of thing with my kids and we all really enjoy it.

My child’s violin teacher is also organizing a “violin party” at a retirement home just before Christmas: a chance for students, families and residents to enjoy holiday music and munchies. Some of the music will be in the classical style but they’re also going to do some fiddling. Very cool. 🙂

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
15 years ago

My hobby is ballroom dancing. Ever since Dancing with the Stars came on, I’ve been fascinated by it, so I finally got off my butt and started taking classes. I do a mean rumba and samba. Oh and I love salsa as well.

Georgie Lee
15 years ago

I’m an amateur historian. I almost decided to make a career of it but I’m glad I didn’t. Sometimes the pressures of a career can kill the thing you love. Better to keep it as a hobby, a special treat instead of making it the object of the daily grind.

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