Hi and welcome to Part Four of my ancestral journey. Thanks for hanging out with me as I follow wherever this road of ancestral exploration leads. I hope you are having as much fun as I am. In Part Three we had the three half-brothers together for the first time ever. I mentioned in Part Two and again in Part Three that my view on nurture vs. nature has evolved significantly due in large part to what I have come to learn about my paternal genealogy. I might go so far as to say these views are, in some ways, cementing.
But, before we dive into that, I must take us on another detour. This one will be brief, and I believe it is necessary and appropriate as it adds context for things to be discussed below and in later posts.
My biological father Lawrence had two brothers and no sisters. On the same weekend I met Dan when this whole wild ride really took off, I also met three cousins on my father’s side. Nina is daughter to one of my biological father’s brothers. Matthew is son to the other brother. So, my friends, meet two of my newly found cousins! This appears to be the tip of the iceberg. There are others and I verily look forward to meeting them soon.
Nina is a vocalist with an amazingly powerful singing voice. The first time I heard one of her recordings, her ability to belt blew me away. On her property in Northern California she is constructing from the ground up a full blown no holds barred recording studio. We learned in Part Three of half-brother Scott’s accomplishments as a life-long rock musician. Dan, I am told, can carry a tune, though I haven’t heard for myself yet. Cousin Matthew is an accomplished author and I recently learned that my biological father Lawrence was no stranger himself to the guitar and singing. There’s more! My biological father’s mother (my paternal grandmother) was self-taught on the piano and organ. She was also prolific in her writings. She did not vault to the echelons of renowned authors, but having read a bit of her work, she wrote with an eloquence that had the ability to enthrall. There are several sketches of hers that undeniably demonstrate her talents here as well. In addition to her writings, she also had a knack for art and appears to have possessed an untamable intellect. Is there a genetic component to music and art? Well, let’s take a trip back in time.
We’ll turn the clock back to the late 1970s through early 1980s. The impact music had on me as a child was enormous. Sure, nearly everyone enjoys listening to some genre of music or another. Me? I was enraptured by melody and rhythm across a spectrum of genres. Take this as a pun if you must, but music truly resonated with me – always has and still does.
When I was about 8 years old, I rescued from our attic an electric miniature organ that produced the windblown sounds of a pipe organ. I remember sitting at our kitchen table for hours hitting keys trying to learn combinations that were melodic and just sounded good together. I knew absolutely nothing about sheet music or even music notation. Yet, I was determined to make music. From that moment, I felt there was something for me in music.
Observing this, my parents, neither of whom are musically inclined, did not hesitate to swing for the fences and stretch the family dollar in buying for my thirteenth birthday a dual keyboard organ with electronic accompaniments. If you’ve watched the day-time gameshow The Price is Right, you’ve seen the way people react when their name is called to “Come on down! You’re the next contestant on The Price is Right!” Well, that was me being surprised with this gift. The emotional support my Mom and Dad provided me –
and my brother Andrew – was second to none. Within no time at all, I was taking lessons and things were off to a great start. For a combination of reasons, it lasted no more than a couple of years. Two of these reasons are my attention challenges and the structure of lessons and practice. As a child with what would eventually become known as ADHD, the discipline of practice had its challenges. My Mom and Dad were and remain rock stars in their support of me and Andrew.
An additional reason for me giving up on music was in part because a classmate I befriended was, in my opinion, nothing short of a musical prodigy. At age 13 he was playing Bach and Beethoven among others to near perfection – or at least it was perfect to me. I allowed myself to be intimidated by how advanced he was and how elementary my playing was by comparison. It tears my heart apart today to look back now and realize that I thought I just was not good enough to be a musician.
Looking back, on my brief childhood career as a musician, I now recognize that I did have some success as a thirteen-year-old. I attended a Catholic grade school and the parish church was on the school grounds. Being a catholic school with a church meant we had our fair helpings of mid-week Mass services throughout the school year. In this church there was a choir loft with a large church organ. I, along with the friend mentioned above, were often called upon to play some of the traditional church hymns. I played the easy stuff; left hand playing chords while right hand played the melody. My virtuoso friend would tear it up with the more complicated works reading notes on both the treble and bass clefs. That always impressed and intimidated the daylights out of me.
During one of our annual large class church services I was to play one of the traditional favorite hymns. I sat on the bench of the organ waiting for the cantor (a classmate) to introduce the song. There was a mix-up in communication as she waited for me to begin playing and I waited for her introduction. Several seconds went by with silence in the church and before I knew it, the next part of the service was underway. The show must go on! I never got to play that one big piece in that one big service. This thirteen-year-old boy then ran to the bathroom, locked the door, sat in the corner of the room and sobbed uncontrollably for what felt like an hour. I blew my first opportunity to play a significant piece on the big stage – at least it was big in the mind of fledgling young dream-filled organ player. Looking back in retrospect, my reaction gives light to just how deeply important succeeding in music meant to me. My mistake was responding to that event as if it was my one and only chance to showcase myself as a musician when in fact it was only one of what could have become many if I had not let it upset and deflate me so much.
During my teens, I had unending visions of myself as a musical performer and I would spend hours in my room with loud music playing the air guitar and singing. This was not your run of the mill make believe to kill time. It was how I would purposely spend a lot of my time. It was the vision I held of myself. Where did this come from? With so much music and art woven into the fabric of my ancestry, I am convinced the answer to this question is revealing itself before my very eyes. I now find myself in the middle of a significant re-evaluation of my life and my relationship with music.
In Part Five I will share with you what all this means for me going forward. I will be inviting you to join me as I return to the path from which I veered forty years. ago. I am making up for lost time. In Part Two I closed with a reference to lyrics from Led Zeppelin’s iconic Stairway to Heaven, “There’s still time to change the road you’re on”. Forty years later, it’s time to put that notion to the test. After a twenty-five-year career in management consulting (the genesis of which I will share later) a career in music might be a bit beyond reach but it is a road that will become quite accustomed to my footprints.
I remain ever grateful to you for your company. See you soon.