Author: Campbell, Bruce

Simple Gifts

Thereís a funny Far Side cartoon that shows a forlorn dog, violin in hand (paw?), staring out the plate glass window of his house, at his friends who are out chasing cats. Itís a play on a common cultural theme, of kids being forced to take music lessons and grieving as their pals are out playing. A recent book ďBattle Hymn of the Tiger MotherĒ raised a hue and cry, partly because the author forced her daughter to take music lessons, believing it was in her childís best interest to have the musical education, even against her will.

I have often heard it said (sometimes by me) that nobody ever wished they hadnít learned to play an instrument. I know I wanted to learn from a pretty early age, but my parents didnít force anything like that on me. Actually, I think they assumed itíd be something that would result in a brief flash of attention, followed by an expensive instrument gathering dust in a corner. I didnít display any early signs of being musically gifted. My sister, on the other hand, learned piano rather quickly. The family consensus was, I think, that she was the one with the talent.

But I had one thing going for me: I REALLY wanted to make music. Regardless of who had the talent, I kept at it, while my sister eventually found other more pressing interests (she never lost her love of music, though). I kept plugging along, certain that my Big Break would come soon. My parents were alarmed, and they warned me not to forsake education to pursue a career music, where the odds against success are enormous.

Fast forward 30 years. I never stopped playing music, although I never could make a living at it. When I had children, I instantly hoped to fulfill those old fantasies, vicariously through them. I didnít want to push them, but when each of them, in turn, wanted to play an instrument, I was very supportive. Probably frighteningly so. One by one, all three kids played an instrument (in order, flute, saxophone and violin), and then, after a year or so, lost interest. Silently, my heart broke. Couldnít they see how much fun I had playing music with my friends? Didnít they want to be just like their old man? Oh wait Ė I remembered whatís it like to be a teenager. Being just like one of your parents isnít high up on the list. Even a cool dad like me.

A few years went by, and an interesting thing happened. My oldest son took some music classes in college (guitar, then musical theory), and out of blue my younger son started playing guitar with his friends. Almost simultaneously, both boys were filling my house with music on a daily basis. There were times I couldnít hear the TV, but I didnít say anything - I was too overjoyed that they were playing music, and playing it well. Occasionally, I would jam with one or both of the them, and it was unbearably wonderful. And I knew the time would come, all too soon, when they would move out, and I would be able to hear the TV just fine, and miss their din, terribly.

And so it came to pass Ė in the space of 4 months last year, both boys moved out, taking their joyous noise with them. But every now and then, they stop by, and either sit at the piano, or pluck a guitar or mandolin off the wall, and weíll do some playing. It might be bluegrass, or jazz, or blues. It doesnít matter what kind of music, because itís all simply unbelievable: me, playing music with my boys. Itís the greatest gift, and we gave it to each other.

Posted:  6/8/2011

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