When I was a kid, maybe 5 or 6 years old, my parents made me take piano lessons. As the youngest of 5 kids, I was to join my older siblings for this weekly experience. Our mom would cart all of us to our teacher’s home in the city, two would stay for their 30 min lessons while the others would be taken to get dinner, then we’d switch (this was also my first memory of the glorious fast-foodness that was Taco Bueno in the 1980s, but that’s another story for another day).
To say I hated piano lessons would be just a wee understatement. My earliest memory of feeling anger is me gritting my teeth, my tiny hands digging into the piano bench, while our teacher asked me to repeat a passage for the umpteenth time I really could have cared less about. Lesson rage? Perhaps. It didn’t get better with the end of the lesson’s festivities, either. Let’s just say “Sense and Sensibility” propriety had nothing on piano lessons with Mrs. Beecham. If you weren’t there, you can’t imagine.
Though they didn’t play an instrument themselves (my mom would later take up and become quite good at piano) my parents encouraged all of us to get involved in music. Mom and dad both sang in the choir at church, and on road trips we’d listen to country/gospel/bluegrass (when we weren’t listening to my dad’s motivational tapes by Zig Ziglar). We each had to take a turn in the band at school, in addition to piano lessons. They pushed us even when we didn’t like it, and I’m so glad they did. As a result, the gift of music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. A central part.
When I turned 13, my parents bought me my dream instrument (and probably the stuff of nightmares for them and our neighbors): a glistening 5 piece set of silver chrome Pearl Export drums. When we moved to NC a year later, those shells got me through some tough years. I was a shy fourteen year-old who was mad at my world being turned upside down, but those drums and a pile of CD’s gave me endless hours of joy, focus and release. If not for those drums and the gift of music, I’m not sure I’d have made it through the next few years without getting into mega trouble. I got into enough as it was.
Music has provided a soundtrack to my life. My first two cassettes as a kid were Prince’s “Purple Rain” (which, looking back I had NO business listening to at my age!) and Tears for Fears “Songs from the Big Chair.” I remember a road trip with just me and my dad and hearing him sing along to Roy Orbison’s “Anything You Want, You Got It” as we cruised down I-40. Pearl Jam and Soundgarden provided the compliment to my teen angst (though I never got on the Nirvana bandwagon, surprisingly). Dave Matthews “Typical Situation” came on the radio on my first date with my wife. Andrew Peterson sang about Rich on the radio as we made our first trip to the NC mountains as husband and wife. The crescendo at the end of Andrew Osenga’s “Early in the Morning” was the first song I listened to with my first born, only a few days old, in my arms.
As my kids have grown, one of the greatest joys I’ve had is introducing them to new music: from the rock and metal of my teen years (properly curated for appropriateness after learning the hard way) to bluegrass, hip hop and dance tunes (their mom’s preferred tunes of youth), to broadway soundtracks to modern worship, and everything in between. As we explore new styles, we’ve found their tastes are as different as each of them. My boy loves rock, metal and “rocking out.” My middle daughter leans toward pure pop and singable tunes. Our eldest has probably the most wide-ranging and eclectic taste of us all.
The other morning I awoke to the sounds of my boy reciting the entirety of Aerosmith’s “Living on the Edge” in his best Steven Tyler voice. I often come home to hear my eldest learning a new song on the piano or her uke: Coldplay, Billy Joel, Adele, the Beatles…she’s all over the place. My sweet middle child is constantly stealing the bluetooth speaker so she can listen to the latest Drew Holcolmb or J.J. Heller record in her room.
Earlier this year, at a Father/Daughter dance, after the DJ played yet another trendy dance tune, my youngest girl looks at me and says “Dad, when are they going to play something good, like the Beatles?”
That’s my girl.
On every car ride, short or long, they want to pick the tunes. I gotta admit, the modern era of digital music is freaking awesome in this regard, because we can run the gamut of anything and everything all at the touch of a screen (no massive CD carry case necessary). Recently, on a late evening drive, I looked in the rearview mirror and watched all 3 of my kids singing along, word-for-word, full out, with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”
One of the more recent developments is my eldest coming to the room I’m playing my guitar in, uke in hand, and starting to playing a tune. No words necessary. I find they key, pick out the chords and join in, a big ol’ smile on my face. It’s an invitation, a chance to connect, a moment I won’t soon forget.
I think of how those drums got me through my teen years after a move I didn’t want to make. I can see glimpses of the solace and comfort music brings, on your hardest days and your best days. I think of how my parents gifted me and all my siblings with the gift of a home that loved music, how they pushed us to dive into it, and I hope my kids get the same from us. In the good times, and the not-so-good times; the celebrations and the sadness, music has been a constant for our family. Whether we’re being silly or serious, getting to share the joy music brings with my family, in all its different ways, is something I will cherish always.