Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Musician or not?

I had the pleasure of joining my friend Chip Richter and his band as they performed a benefit concert last night. Chip usually takes the band out to dinner after shows and last night the restaurant was Hog Heaven. (This has nothing to do with the story, but I thought it was funny with the Pig-addiction I've seemed to develop since rejoining the meat eating world.) One of the band members, a teacher by day, brought a student of his who is greatly interested in music. After dinner the guys in the band entertained his questions about playing music, making a living at music, writing music, going to school for music, and the intellectual and mental state that a musician lives in. Pretty amazing conversation really.

The thing that made this such an intense moment in this kid's (and my own) life was the company it was held in. Chip by himself is a very talented and personable artist. He owns his own studio, records for other people and organizations, runs a children's program at an exclusive summertime resort, all while playing and recording and selling his own music. His lead guitarist, Jeff, is one of the most talented Blues guitarists I've ever heard. He's been playing for over 40 years, I think. Chip's bass player is named Marty. Marty is a quality musician in his own right and not only in bass but in many other instruments. Again, one of the greatest bass players I've met or heard. Greg, the guy who plays a thousand instruments, has been playing for years. He's so in-tuned to music that he gets physically sick if he can't play for an extended period of time. Scott (the fill in drummer while Chip's regular drummer recovers from surgery,) owns his own drum shop, teaches music, and tours with multiple bands almost every weekend. Like I said, the talent I was sitting with at that table was amazing. And hopefully this student realized the caliper of people he was having a conversation with.

As many of you know I grew up with a ultra talented musical father. At 18 years old he was the second highest ranked trombone player in the U.S. He's played almost every instrument in the average performance and symphony band. And he's been an teacher of almost all of those same instruments. A marvelous pianist, and a phenom at guitar playing. All of this while sporting a tenor range that makes the Three Tenors sound like little children. Growing up around this man was a (musical) gift very few experience. But one of his only musical failures was his son.

I don't say that in any self-deprecating kind of way. At the age of two he bought me a play trombone. I never picked up a real one. As a child he tried for six straight summers to teach me piano. All of it lost less than a month after it was taught. I played a wicked air guitar so he bought me a nice guitar at a teenager. Didn't work. But he wasn't giving up that easy. At my local school, the organized band started in fifth grade. I didn't want to join because I hated playing music. But joining wasn't a choice in our house. So in my ten year old defiance I said, "If you're going to make me join the band, then I'm playing the drums." Not sure whether my Dad was defeated or what his thoughts were, but he said OK. So the drums became my instrument.

As I began to learn my instrument, turns out I had pretty decent rhythm. But I hated playing. I wouldn't practice. I'd sit in my room and pretend to play while I was reading. My parents sent me to lessons and sometimes I skipped them to go to Dairy Queen. All that said, I was still pretty decent. Then one rainy Saturday, my Dad shelled out $400 for an old pile of drums. I turned it into a drum set and fell in love. I played all the time. Around the same time I joined the high school marching band. Another love at first sight. Between the drum set and the marching band I was in the clouds. I still didn't practice mind you, but I was having fun and was one of the best in my small school.

Which takes me back to last night. As I sat and listened to these musicians, with a combined total of probably 150 years experience, I kept hearing one common theme. These guys played music because it was in them; it was part of them; they couldn't live without it; if they stopped playing they'd go crazy; they didn't always play for the crowds or the recognition but rather for themselves. Not a single one of those things described anything I'd ever felt about playing drums. Not one. Music was only a part of me because my Dad forced me into it (which I'm thankful for); I haven't played in 10 years and I feel nothing; I only played for the crowds. See a trend?

So as I listened to these guys talk that I have major respect and awe for, I knew deep down I wasn't a musician. As much as my dad wanted it to be so, I didn't have his talent. I love and appreciate music just as much, if not more than most people, and yet it's only a part of my life for that purpose and not to be a member of that community. Please don't take this the wrong way, I'm not upset or sad about this fact. I'm just not there. I can't sing, I can't read or play a note of music, and I have no idea what figurative end is up on many instruments. I love music, I feel music, I breath music, but only in appreciation not participation. The most shocking thing for me is that I just realized that at 32 years old. I always thought I could get back to the skill I had, and with practice I might be able to. But the point is I don't need or want to. It's not in me. I'm not a musician. I know good musicians, really good musicians. I'm not one of them.


Blogger Kristen said...

Okay, musician or not, you are one of the best drummers I have ever heard, and I've heard a lot. I still brag to people about your 21 piece drum set and how amazing you were at it. I am one of those people who could be classified as a "musician" (by your definition), it is my calling, it is my passion, I live music. However I would still call you a musician at heart. You don't have to live it like a lot of people do, but you have to love it and be good at it in some way. You were a very talented drummer, probably the best I've ever heard. Don't sell yourself short, God gave you music, just in a different way than others.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

While I truly appreciate the kudos and compliments, you haven't heard too many good drummers if you think I'm the best you've ever heard. I'm not denying I was pretty good, but I was nothing compared to what true talent is like. I had rhythm, true. Talent? Not so much. But thanks anyway for the nice words. A little something to stroke the ego today! :-)

10:48 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

You still play a mean air drum in the car or anywhere that strikes you. I often wonder what song you are playing with your feet if you sit still for any space of time. True evidence of a closet drum player.
You may not find that you need to play music and that is totally cool, but you are still extremely talented in music, your knowledge and experience in music surrounds you as well. Don't think that what skills you have in music aren't important just because you don't play a musical instrument. You fit right in with those guys at Hog Heaven or whatever it was called.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

My Dad tried to leave a comment but his computer is dying on him. So he asked me to add this for him:

My only question is this: what were you doing there in the first place? Were you just along for the ride? Did you make a wrong turn at Dairy Queen and end up in Hog Heaven? Were you just there to carry someone else's instrument?

Or were you there because you had something to contribute? Something to say? Something to do? Sure, you might not be a musician in the sing-a-song-play-a-tune way of thinking, but because you understand music, feel music, know how music is supposed to sound - and because you have the gifts to make that happen in real time and in real places - you belonged at that table right along with all those other gifted musicians. Take it from a musician - we NEED you non-musical musicians to make us sound good out there!

And that comes from your Dad who still plays music from his wheelchair and knows what he's talking about!

1:57 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I have some very, very fond memories of the music in your home growing up. I loved the room your family had just off of the living room where all the music could be found. I loved when I'd walk in the door and I could hear your dad's voice coming through that door. I can hear it even now! Or when Kristen would sit at the piano and play. How I long to have such talet as that which was found in that home. Though I never spoke of it growing up, I longed for that in my own life. You were/are very blessed to have such a wonderful gift music in your family and home. Whether or not it was ever know, that made an impact on me and those are memories I shall always cherish.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

Sam, since I've never heard you drum before, I think I can honestly say... you suck as a drummer...

or maybe you are really great...

or possibly you are in the middle somewhere...

Yeah. Definitely.

10:43 PM  
Blogger HennHouse said...

I think that is an interesting definition of musician. Great post.

8:51 AM  
Blogger kimw said...

Good post, Sam. As a musician, I can honestly say that I love what I do partly because music can evoke so much emotion. How many times have you heard a piece of music that can bring back not only a memory, but the FEELING that went along with that memory. Even photographs can hardly do that! Each person has their own reason for why music moves them in a certain way. Music is powerful on so many levels.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

I think you got it right on. Having a passion for music doesn't make you a musician, and I think people get that mixed up all the time. I went to highschool with a kid who was really involved with band, and he felt like he had to or he would go crazy. This same kid hated anything not classical, he hated the radio, he would rather sit in silence than go to a concert. I think he was a musician but did he really have a love for music the way you do,,,absolutly not. Musicians create because they have to, plane and simple.

One of my professors showed the class this video of a kid playing a piano, and drums. He edited it all up to make it look cool. The piece was really cool, and at the end the teacher asked everyone why he did that. We tried to explain to him that YouTube was a place you could put videos, and all these reasons we thought he didn't get because he was older. He said "NO Your All Wrong"

The right answer is because he had to.

If you don't feel the need to pick up drum sticks and play drums because its your therapy, than I would agree that you are not a musician. However I wouldn't want to sit and digest a work of art by a musician than anyone beside you, because I know your appreciation runs deep.

10:33 AM  

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