The Gift that Keeps Giving

I found myself overwhelmed with emotion listening to what was happening on stage.  Kevin was singing with the Fitch Mountaineers and playing guitar.  Colin, who had just flown in that morning, was invited to sit in with the group so he pulled out his tenor and, mid song, walked onto the stage and started playing.  He didn’t have music.  He listened for a few seconds and just joined in.  During a vocal break in the song, Kevin, who I imagine usually would take a solo, stepped out of the way and Colin came alive.  Wonderful, melodic, beautiful music came out of the horn and I was even more blown away.  I looked quickly around the room and people in the audience were smiling and moving with the sound of the music.  When Colin was done, Kevin stepped seamlessly up to the microphone and belted out the next verse.

It was magic, but this isn’t the beginning of the story.

Weeks earlier I was in LA because Nelson had invited me down for a recital of singers taught by his vocal teacher.  I didn’t know what to expect but, hey, parents are supposed to show up for these things so I booked a flight to LA and bought my tickets to the show. In fact, I bought two, because I figured, since Pamela couldn’t make it, that maybe Colin would want to attend as well.  Later, when I asked Colin if he wanted to go with me, he let me know that he didn’t need a ticket - he had been hired to play in the band that accompanied the students.  It turns out that Nelsons vocal teacher hires professional musicians for their annual recital and the normal group was in need of a sax player.

For the first few students I listened to slightly uneven performances as the newer, less experienced singers took the stage.  Then it was Nelson’s turn. I found myself apprehensive wondering what his performance would be like.  As Nelson stepped onto the stage, Colin started with a sax introduction to “They Can’t Take that Away from Me”.  With a smile and amazing self-assurance Nelson nailed it.  He was powerful, charismatic and stole the show with his performance.

Emotion flooded over me as I watched, dumbfounded.  How did this happen?  Where did this come from?  Where does the story begin?

Many years ago, Pamela asked for a Miracle for Mothers Day.  Not a miracle of the divine nature, but a Miracle Piano Learning System.  It was a small keyboard that hooked up to a Mac, and the software “taught” you how to play.  There were exercises and games with the computer being the teacher, watching the keys as they were pressed and giving corrections.  Chapters ended with getting to play a short song with the program providing the background accompaniment.  It was awesome - but Pamela never used it and I don’t think she ever intended to.

Instead, little 5 year old Kyle became obsessed, learned every song, and completed chapter after chapter.  He was so young that he couldn’t read the instructions, so I would sit with him and read the screen so he could progress. Soon we found him a teacher and the kid who started on his Mom’s Miracle Keyboard still takes lessons and plays to his son in their living room.  Each of our kids started piano at 5, just like Kyle.  We told them that they had to take lessons until they were 14, then they could quit if they wanted to.  None did.

But the story doesn’t start there, either.

I play the piano. When Pamela and I got married, one of the things that got left behind in my parents‘ house was the piano. She knew I missed it, so for my 28th birthday she got me one.  I walked into a surprise birthday party and my mother handed me a present that I had to open before I got all the way in the door.  It was my old piano books, used and worn, but with all the songs that I had painstakingly learned through the years. When I turned around, a shiny new upright piano was in our living room.  Music entered our house before the kids even arrived. 

I’m not going to claim that it was great music, but, oh the joy it brought, and still brings, to my life. See, I don’t really play piano the “right” way.  When I was 12, I had already started playing trumpet in the band, but I loved watching my brother Bruce play the piano.  He was taking real piano lessons and progressing nicely and when he saw that I was trying to play he started teaching me. I could read treble-clef (the right hand of piano music which is mostly the melody) and he taught me how to read the guitar cords that went along with it.  I learned about cord structure, minor and major cords and how to combine those left hand cords with the right-hand melody.

I don’t know what made him think to do this for me, but it worked and I learned how to make music. When we got married, Pamela enjoyed listening to me make music and made sure a piano was always in the house. When kids arrived, so did more music. Not so great at first but, oh boy, has it blossomed.

Music has always filled our house. Countless hours of lessons and practice have yielded results that Bruce couldn’t have predicted.  His simple gift to me will continue through the generations.  Right now the branches of that tree number only a handful, but as the years pass the number will growーall because a big brother took the time to teach something to his little brother.

That was the beginning.  Thank you Bruce for the gift of music.