It was harvest season again when the apples had turned red and yellow, round and juicy and sweet and mellow. And it had been a busy and exhausting Fall day. When I finally got to my room. I knelt down and said a quick prayer, asked for a little grace, asked for some deliverance from evil, and then I flopped onto my bed, clothes and all, and quickly fell into a deep sleep.
It was in the wee hours of the morning when I heard the sound of a piano being played from the other side of my bedroom wall. I was easily able to pick out the tune penetrating through my walls as a determined and forthright version of Scott Joplin’s ragtime great The Entertainer.
I’ll admit there are worse ways to be woken up to in the morning. The piano playing was coming along just fine until about two-thirds of the way through when the aspiring pianist stumbled. He (I assumed it was he because of the manly way he handled that piano) promptly returned to the beginning and started to methodically play the song all over again. Fair enough, you make a mistake once, maybe even twice, and you want start all over. I get that. But when the piano player did this a third time, a fourth time and so forth, I began to feel like my sleep was being abused. What had started out as a pleasant night’s sleep was now turning into a nightmare. Just play the dad gum song all the way through!
Now, I don’t remember how long my Dad took piano lessons but I don’t ever remember hearing him making it to the end of Joplin’s The Entertainer even though he was a dedicated student of the piano. Despite his limitations, you could always count on Dad giving it 100%. Legend has it that my Mom once heard my Dad play it all the way through, but I think that’s was just fake news so that we would move on to something less painful.
The piano wasn’t the only instrument my Dad tried playing, he noodled a bit on the guitar and the mandolin. But like the piano, I never heard him finish a song on either one of those instruments. He’d always tease us with a few chords but never give us a song. This habit even applied to his whistling. I don’t remember a day going by when my Dad didn’t whistle. I remember how he’d come home from work, deep in abstract thought—deep in Plato’s cave, whistling the same unrecognizable rambling tune in no hurry to have it become an actual song.
Now my Dad wasn’t the only one who tried his hand at music in our family. My parents made a conscious and concerted effort to get us to tap in our own musical talents. My sister tried by played the snare drum in Middle School, a la Karen Carpenter, although I think she was more into Cher back then. Later on, I witnessed her efforts to play the Star Wars theme song by ear on the piano, but beyond that I am not sure where her musical talents took her. But her talents lied elsewhere and I think my parents just accepted the fact that her journey in life would always be preternatural.
My older brother had more success. He was a regular Ian Anderson during Middle School. He even soloed a few times at Church, including a stirring rendition of What Child is This? Man, could he toot that flute back in the day. But then basketball took over his life and his desire to be the next “Downtown” Freddie Brown took precedence over being the next great jazz flutist.
I too briefly flirted with aspirations of being a musician. At a young age, I dreamed about composing a double horn concerto like Rosetti. Then there were other times when my dreams were more subdued and I desired to compose something a little more simple like a short sacred vocal composition. When I wasn’t killing it on the piano, I was playing the alto saxophone. Through zero effort, zero discipline and tiny bit of talent, I got what I deserved and often ended up being last chair during my first two years in band. However, in the eighth grade I did finally make first chair in the Jazz Band. I can’t really explain the sudden success after struggling for so long, other than the fact that a lot of my bandmates had just started the sixth grade.
But after a while my interest in music waned. I remember I had just finished playing Hot Cross Buns and I was sitting there all alone in the basement on the piano bench, snacking on a ball of wheat bread I had recently rolled up. And I turned the page and looked up at notes and lyrics to The Song of the Volga Boatmen, and asked myself Is this all there is? It was in that very moment I had lost my appetite to be a musician. I could no longer see a prosperous future in music. It was time to follow my other dreams. And I had, oh, so many other dreams back then.
When I gave up on music the last hope for a musical prodigy in our family fell on the little shoulders of my kid brother. In the beginning, his prospects didn’t look so good. He practiced even less than I did. At least I would sit at the piano for twenty minutes and try to please my parents. He would sit at the piano for like ten minutes and then disappear for an extended bathroom break, which always seemed to end up with him in his room playing with Star Wars figures. Nobody seemed to notice or care. If I had done the same thing, my parents would have been on me like stink on skunk. My little brother had it good back then and he didn’t even know it.
After a while though he stopped taking piano lessons, but then something strange happened. Around twelve or thirteen, he started to play music on the piano by ear. He started by playing movie theme songs just like my sister had, but then expanded to classic rock. Apparently, the guy had legitimate musical talent. And then I went away on a mission to Mexico and I kept hearing from people back in the “801” about this band called the Roy Hawkins Religious Revival and their lead folk guitarist. People were comparing him to a young Jim Croce. My brother it seemed had become overnight a regular guitar virtuoso while I was out preaching the good news to the good gente of Mazatlan.
After all the dashed hopes and dreams, the money my parents spent on instruments and music lessons had at last paid off. The return on their investments was my little brother finally tapping into his God-given guitar playing talent. To this day my brother is still playing, in fact if you are ever in a small coffee house in Twin Falls, Idaho you might come across him. And isn’t that all any parent ever wants is to have at least one of their children discover their talents and potential. It goes a long way in overcoming the sad spectacle of the unfulfilled potential in their other children. Meanwhile I keep stringing my parents along with the promise of potential. They are very patient people. They are saints, dad-gummit.