Music & Me: The Early Years

Disclaimer: This is the first in what (I hope) will be a series of posts about my life with and relationship to music. If you’ve known me a while, this probably starts in a place you don’t expect, but keep reading the posts before you feel sorry for me. I’m not sure where this is going yet, but I promise life isn’t bad no matter what you’re about to read.

I hate music. It didn’t start out this way, yet life beat it out of me. (Yes, that was a pun in the second sentence; deal with it.) This wasn’t how it was supposed to be or what I ever thought it would be, yet here we are all the same. The path got set very early on in life.

Two distinct memories from my earliest of days and both center on the pulpit at the church in which I grew up. One was that the pastor, who had the stage for approximately half of the service, was deathly dull. Even the better pastors we had during my formative years would literally put me to sleep on a regular basis.

It was the other half of the service that interested me, when the music director took center stage. Even old hymns, which I find to be even more dull than the dusty sermons, came (partially) alive when even a mediocre director got up to lead the congregation in the verses. Then we move over to the choir, and even for a few years the orchestra, and things were happening (relatively).

One vivid memory is of me, as a pre-schooler, deciding that I wanted to conduct so badly, I would just start doing it from the congregation. Thankfully my parents were amused at my antics and allowed me to continue on. Even the music minister, who gave me some tips on my style after the service, found it amusing.

But music at church wasn’t just a spectator sport for me; it was something I spent many an hour practicing every week. Besides Bible study on Wednesday evenings, we also had children’s choir starting around the same age we could talk. It was one of the few things that I remember enjoying as a kid, even when I thought the songs themselves to be unchallenging. I was the one kid who always wanted to be up on stage performing even when I acted like it was uncool to do so.

Contrast that with my home life where music was, until I was far into my elementary school years, non-existent. Its not that my parents disliked music, just that it wasn’t something they considered to be important in their lives. I don’t really understand why that is, they just are not musically inclined individuals. Talk radio was the only thing we ever listened to in the car and if it wasn’t a call in politics show, it probably didn’t stay on the dial very long.

If anything, talk radio politics is more boring than church.

So while my interest in music wasn’t encouraged, it really wasn’t discouraged, either. It was just accepted as part of who I was and they let me go at it. Maybe it was precisely because music was not part of my life anywhere but at church that I gravitated towards it. I heard people pontificating at me everywhere but music? That was something special that didn’t just happen all the time.

But grow up I did and eventually, my older sister introduced me to radio stations other than the ones my parents listened to. Specifically, she let me hear pop music and this changed how I thought about sound entirely. I remember coming home from church on Sundays to catch the end of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40. The really old record player my parents kept in a spare room had a (very) analog radio in it, which you would find me glued to for hours on those afternoons.

Eventually my dad retrofitted that desk-sized radio with RCA jacks in the back so he could connect up a pro-series tape deck to it. This changed everything again as I could now make my own mix tapes every week, listening for that song that I heard and loved the prior week, trying so hard to get the entire thing recorded without any annoying voice (sorry Casey!) talking over the front or back of the track.

This was also the time where I started to decide what was good, and bad, about the music I heard. For some reason, I really loved hearing Kenny Loggins’ Footloose and made up my own dance to the song. When the chorus started, I would tuck my toes under the tongue of my penny loafers and flick them into the air, watching them twirl through the air, seeing exactly how close to the entry way chandelier I could get them without hitting it and promptly getting in trouble.

As much as I loved that song, I hated some with equal passion. The one that really sticks out in my mind is Van Halen’s Jump. Listening to the song again now, I really don’t understand what it was that made me dislike it so; its frankly just not bad enough to hate with the passion with which I held only for it. Part of me wonders if there was some other song I felt was more deserving yet kept being beat out for the top single of the week.

The end of my elementary years saw me expand my horizons as concert band was available to 5th graders for the first time. My final year in elementary school saw me take up the saxophone, specifically the alto at this time, and become my first instrument (the recorder doesn’t count). That began what would end up being an 11 year run (with only my senior year in high school as a break) playing an instrument on a nearly daily basis. Even though I would eventually learn to play several more instruments (specifically flute and bassoon) well and a few more (specifically trombone, guitar and piano) not so well, the saxophone would always be the instrument that held a special place in my life. Its also the one thing that I think kept me making music for as long as I did.