Thursday, February 11, 2010

Notes from the family

Yep, ours is a musical family. My daughter, Katie, is studying music business in college, but what she wants most is a spotlight as she tears through a blues solo she’s making up that very moment. She’s quite a guitarist, the hundred or so musicians she’s played alongside are quick to tell her. And in case that’s not enough, she’s also learning bass, banjo, keyboard and drums.

Andrew, in high school, isn’t after a music career—he wants to be a writer. (He’s a very good one already.) You wouldn’t know of his plans, though, from the sound upstairs, where he routinely practices keyboard, guitar and drums. Elena plays violin and was pretty good when I met her, though she doesn’t get to play nearly as often as she wants. Still, her playing was part of how I fell in love.

Me? I’ll let you guess. My dad played violin; his dad, violin, guitar and banjo. My brother Stephen played drums. Genes to the left of me, genes to the right of me, into the valley of tunes goes…my kazoo.

I don’t actually play the thing as accompaniment. For the most part, it went into the nightstand drawer as a condition of entering adulthood. What I mean to say is that I tried several instruments on my way to becoming, arguably, the most accomplished listener of music in the family. I simply achieved the greatest heights on—hold your applause till I’m finished—a tapered tube into which one hums.

Not that I didn’t try. I banged away dissonant notes on an acoustic guitar someone had thrown away. Its strings, I recall, were a half-inch above the fingerboard. Or so it seemed once I started trying to learn seriously. What stopped me in my tracks was my first attempt (on up to the tenth or so) to play a bar chord, in which you hold down some or all strings with one finger while forming notes with others. Even the pinky. What, I thought, are they crazy? My son plays bar chords like they’re nothing; I like the notion of one generation advancing on the one before. Never mind that musically I retreated.

Neither was I unimaginative. At 14, I went down to West Virginia with my family when my grandmother died. My Uncle Orville stopped into a bar, with me in tow, and the owner played better banjo than I’d heard even on The Beverly Hillbillies. So I asked for a banjo. I later got to liking the Zorba the Greek soundtrack and asked for a bouzouki. Then came the Dr. Zhivago soundtrack; I asked for a balalaika. Fortunately for the family budget, my parents remembered the football uniform too well. They wisely declined.

So I listen. My opinion somehow matters when I’m asked how something sounds, and I enjoy watching Katie play publicly whenever I can. And sometime, somehow, one of them will need someone on a tenor sax. But there’ll be no sax available. Nor a sax player. What’s the next best thing?

While they scratch their heads, I’ll head back to the bedroom. To the nightstand drawer. And blow their minds.


  1. Hey, cool. I didn't know Grandpa played instruments.

  2. Yeah, he and Elena played a Bach concerto together once! (It's nicknamed the Bach double concerto, as it's for two violins.) I think he dabbled in harmonica, too.

  3. Nicely written, Ed! Congratulations on starting your own blog...I may not be too far behind you.

  4. Thank you, Denise! I hope to be reading you soon--let me know! It isn't hard at all to start one once you're settled on your goals, the tone, name, etc.