Music and music making have always been a part of my life. It started with the magic machine that was my father’s 1950’s RCA Orthophonic phonograph. I loved it so much my teeth marks were fossilized in the dark wood of the cabinet.
Music making began with the obligatory piano lessons taught by a century-old piano teacher. Initial excitement eventually devolved to tears and threats about practicing. There were painful recitals. Then came the annual horror of the National Piano Playing Auditions with the ten required memory pieces and scales. Finally, mom relented and there was sweet release from piano purgatory after three years of Czerny and scales.
The first guitar was the obligatory Sears Silvertone – firewood with strings set so far above the fingerboard that Chuck Norris couldn’t have pressed them down. I still have that guitar, and it is still unplayable. Serious study of the guitar would wait for another season.
“Trumpet! It has to be trumpet!” This was me speaking to my parents about the upcoming band auditions. “If it is that stupid plumbing looking thing, I’m not doing it.” So, of course, I got the trombone! Little did I know that I had some aptitude for plumbing. If there was a band to be found, I was there – marching band, concert band, pep band, jazz band. I was the band jock. The band room was where I spent most of my high school hours, even when I should have been in class elsewhere. The trombone brought with it the opportunity to win chairs in All-State bands and receipt of the John Phillip Sousa Award upon graduation.
It was also during high school that my childhood fascination with electronic boxes that made loud noises fully manifested and the addiction got really expensive. Through a friend whose dad owned the local radio station, I started working on air as an announcer years before I could even drive. Acquisition of electronic equipment ballooned and I started doing live gigs as a DJ, dragging hundreds of pounds of gear in an orange Econoline van all over eastern North Carolina.
My first exposure to the classical guitar came about as a result of a shipping error. In the 70’s, the mail order record club was the way to feed a music addiction. 13 albums for a penny. And it was in one of these deliveries that RCA mistakenly sent me an LP by the Spanish guitarist, Andres Segovia. (“Who is this fat man playing the guitar with the plastic strings?”) And that was “it”. “It” wasn’t the piano, or the plumbing, or the van full of speakers. “It” was this ‘miniature orchestra’ as Segovia once said of the classical guitar. Learning to play it was all I wanted to do.
Brevard College, during the mid 70’s, was a small two-year school in the mountains of North Carolina. Known for its music, art and drama departments, Brevard was a rich artistic environment in a beautiful setting ideally suited for the romantic notion of a career in music. Romance was also to be found in a cute flutist name Angie. Brevard opened new musical opportunities including a season with the Asheville Symphony Orchestra playing the plumbing I swore I never would. The first time I heard a Beethoven symphony, I was sitting in the middle of an orchestra performing it.
From Brevard, my soon-to-be-bride and I migrated to Greensboro and attended UNC at Greensboro. More great music and musicians. There I found a new fascination with music history. I acquired and learned to play the lute and performed in the school’s early music ensemble, the Collegium Musicum. Newly married, my wife and I started performing as a flute and guitar ensemble. Life was good.
And then, the romance of a music career came into stark reality. Sent out into the chill of the recession of the early 80’s, we were left to figure out how to translate this passion into dollars. Retail music. Many, many guitar students. University teaching. More playing gigs. A recording studio and media production company. The life of a musician putting the pieces together to come up with at least part of a full-time salary. It was much less about the art and more about the business of the art. But the passion never waned. It simply matured.
It was post-college that I had the opportunity to attend classes with some amazing guitarists. Master classes with Christopher Parkening, in which I was a performer, were the seminal moments of my musical life. Parkening was, without question, the most influential guitarist of his generation. His recordings with Angel records, media darling and consummate musicianship set him apart – giving the classical guitar a U.S. audience that it never had. Parkening did for the classical guitar in the states what Segovia had done internationally. It was in these master classes that I learned the mechanics of how to produce that famous sound. Twenty years or so later, my son also performed for Parkening at Duke University in North Carolina. Circle of life. Proud daddy.
Life. Children. Ministry. Decades. Music has ebbed and flowed throughout the years but is now enjoying a renaissance in our lives. Illusions of grandeur have been happily replaced with the simplicity of making music for the sake of the music.