I love music, and I always have. It makes my body move and my spirit soar. I have many favorite songs and passages, and I can listen to them repeatedly — thrilling to the skill and nuance of the performers.
My brain plays songs I’ve heard, like a tape recorder in my head. But sometimes it plays songs I’ve never heard, and those are the hard ones for me to hear, without the skills to make them real.
When I was in first year university I lived in a residence with many other young men. It was a mix of hard working students and party lovers, all learning to live away from home. Many people left their hallway doors open, and there was a real community feel in the dorm.
One of the guys on my floor played classical guitar, and I often heard his skilled and melodic playing floating down the hallway. I was a shy person but, drawn by the sound of his guitar, I introduced myself. Over the next couple of weeks I often spent time sitting in his room, listening to him play. He wasn’t limited to classical guitar — he could play anything, from folk to rock. It was amazing and wonderful to hear up close.
One day when I dropped in my friend was reading a book. He welcomed me, and as I sat down he saw me looking at the guitar. “Pick it up,” he said. “Give it a try.”
I carefully picked up his beautiful acoustic guitar and clumsily sat it across my lap. “You won’t break it,” he said. “Just try.”
I had no clue about notes or how to play, and the sheer number of frets was intimidating. But I plucked out some notes, slowly and quietly at first, and then more enthusiastically. I was surprised by the vibration of the guitar — of the physical pulse that accompanied the start of each note. It was an extra dimension that a non-musician would not have experienced.
With my friend kindly appearing to ignore me and read his book, I tried playing a bit more. After a few minutes of fiddling around I found a series of notes that sounded good to me, and my awkward fingers somehow got them into a loop. It was fun!
Just then another guy from the floor came into the room. No doubt he had heard disturbingly awful playing coming from an otherwise quality guitar.
“That’s not how you play,” he said, shaking his head and frowning. “That’s no way to play a guitar.”
My gut wrenched, and I felt a wave of shame and regret that I had dared to pick up that guitar. I have no memory of anything my friend might have said at that moment. All I remember is a dark hole being punched through my fledgling attempt at music, and then a lot of years passing. I still loved music and appreciated musicians — even more than before — but any thoughts I had of playing music were kept small out of a fear of rejection, and easily brushed aside in the busy-ness of work and family.
Last year at Christmas I received some money as a gift, and with it I bought myself a beautiful guitar, which looks a lot like the one my friend played at school years ago. It sits in the corner of my room — a reminder to appreciate our world’s creative and musical communities, and those who encourage them.
Sometimes I pick it up. I have taken guitar lessons — from a skilled and lifelong music teacher — so I can play a few chords.
But I can never get back those years when I was a vulnerable young man trying to play music for the first time. I was an impressionable, sensitive person who a jerk successfully shot down.
I have a son now, just a bit older than I was in this story. He is a wonderful guitarist and musically skilled in ways that I admire but can not quite comprehend. He has tried to teach me some music, and has encouraged me to play more. “You’re over-thinking it,” he has told me, no doubt correctly.
But the extra 30 years of life have changed my brain, and are not easily erased.
If they could be, and I were back in that dorm room, I would wish for two things to have happened: My guitar-playing friend would have kicked the jerk out of the room and told me in a clear and supportive voice, “You’re doing great. Keep trying”.
And I would have kept trying — enjoying and knowing how to play a musical instrument.
Please be a patron of the Arts. Whether your child or friend loves music, drama, dance, art or writing — please be supportive and encouraging. The Arts and our community, not money, are the collective value of our world.