Saturday, March 02, 2013

Joel the "Musician"

Why this post? Because I think some might have a mistaken impression of who and what I am. I have a Facebook page and Twitter account. If you look at my "friends" list, or on my "following-followed by" list on Twitter, you'll see I have lots of musicians in there. More on that in the next paragraph. But please understand— I have NEVER identified myself as a professional musician—quite the opposite. I say openly that I am a "frustrated musician," and spare myself no expense in mocking my limited ability. But there is a method in my madness.

In the telling of my story below, my hope is to encourage younger folks who have musical inclinations to pursue those interests with all their energy, and to let nothing distract them from pursuing excellence. Because it doesn't get easier the older you get. And I am getting older. Plus, at age 52 and being a caregiver of a beloved 90-year-old Mother (who is a painting artist and frustrated because she can't paint the way she wants now), my opportunities to make music are rare. I am limited now to playing guitar once a week for staff chapel, and very occasionally, bass for the church worship team. That's it. No more, no less.

What Am I?
I am—quite honestly—a mediocre, frustrated musician. I love music. I love listening to it and playing it. There are musicians in my family and friendships—some are quite accomplished. I have many friends and acquaintances who are great musicians. If you look at my Facebook friends list and my Twitter "follower-following" lists, you will find many musicians there. Some I know personally. Some I do not know personally, but have interactions with them. No doubt, some of this is helped by my 30-plus years in broadcasting and media. I've interviewed musicians, promoted them locally, became friends with some well known and not so well known, worked at their concerts at the door, even helped as a roadie now and then when they were playing at a local venue. It's even more fun when the musician playing at a venue is a fellow roadie. True humility! But because I have musician Twitter and Facebook friends, and some personal ones, that does not make me a mogul or impresario, or virtuoso. I'm chuckling as I type this. I DO know broadcasting and broadcast promotion. I DO know PR, at least the traditional methods. The Internet and email age has me scratching my head a bit, but I am studying and learning. I have to. I am the communications manager for a Christian missionary organization that helps churches and needy people in the former communist countries where persecution of believers is severe. I need to learn all I can in this changing age about how to communicate.

Musically, What CAN I Do?

What can I do? I "play" guitar, bass, keys, percussion, kazoo, recorder, a bit of mandolin, etc, and none of them very well. I sang first tenor in college choir for two years. I did one professionally recorded song in a professional studio, but only as writer, arranger and producer. Not as performer. I have dinked around recording myself at home, but only as personal amusement and not for public consumption. My most ambitious self-recording was a version of "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues. I played 12-string guitar, software drums, bass, keyboards (including Mellotron sampled violins and flutes), but no vocal track. And that was only a trial run testing new recording software. Not a serious attempt, and I lost half of it when the hard drive on the computer failed. I have yet to rebuild the tracks I lost. I have written songs and instrumentals, almost all in the Christian/spiritual vein or prog rock genre. None have been recorded. And even half of those were lost in a house fire in 2003.

Dummy me, I lived alone from 18 to 41. I could have tried to do more, but I did not, and no one to blame but me. Now do you see why I say "frustrated musician?" But where did I get the bug?

Family Music History

My late father WAS a musician, though unknown. He was born in the Arkansas Ozarks and had only an 8th grade education. He was quiet, shy, and introverted. But when he spoke, his quiet authority demanded obedience and respect. His anger was seldom expressed, but because he was so quiet, his anger was even more frightening when he did visibly become angry. He was a brilliant man who was granted excellent materials by God. Despite his limited education—necessitated by growing up in the Depression-era South where he had to help feed the family by helping on the farm/ranch—he taught himself geometry, algebra, and trigonometry. He sought and got a diploma in fixing televisions because he loved electronics. But he loved music most of all. His instruments were violin, mandolin and guitar. He was excellent by the accounts of many who heard him. He would travel across the Ozarks with other musicians and play for dances and other get-togethers. Then came World War II, and he could have been exempted because my aging grandfather needed help on the farm. But Dad had issues. He was small in stature like me, and his older brother constantly made fun of him for not "being a man." He bullied Dad mercilessly. So Dad felt he had to volunteer for the army, and he went. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. When he came home, he was not the same according to my mother and older sisters. He put his instruments up for a long time. But on the rare occasions when he did take the instruments out, it was special. But I got to experience very little of it. He worked in a farm machinery factory, and lost a finger. He could never play the same again.

Dad always had an issue with alcohol, but it became worse over time. He slowly smoked and drank himself to death. He only took out his instruments when drunk, and when he would hit a bum note because of his lost finger, he would grimace and stop playing. Then he put the instruments back in their cases, and would retire for the night to his room. As the night wore on, we would hear him playing David Oistrach and Mozart, and other great music. And we knew that as he listened, he was probably grieving for what he was once able to do, but could do no more. My Mom and Dad divorced when I was 13 due largely to his drinking, and I inexplicably chose to stay home with Dad. Mom was the believing, practicing Christian in the couple, and she was the main one responsible (under God's sovereign guidance) for me being a believer. I told myself that I wanted to stay to win Dad to the Lord, but in truth, I think I was just scared of leaving home. He died when I was 19 of emphysema. I prayed with him on his deathbed to repent and receive Christ before he lapsed into his final coma. I pray it was sincere, and that I will see him in heaven.

Dad's Musical Legacy

I inherited his love for music. To be fair, Mom's side of the Arkansan family had bluegrass musicians as well. My Mom and uncles even recorded vinyl records of themselves singing old standards in four part harmony. My older sister got an acoustic guitar in the hippie movement, but she never messed with it much. I picked it up and taught myself to play. I messed with Dad's mandolin and violin, but never seriously. I began taking Hammond B-3 organ lessons from a neighbor lady, but had to stop after only a few months because of finances (at least that's what I remember). She got upset at me because I wanted to play by ear instead of sight read sheet music. She died a short time later, but she taught me the basics of reading music, and the power of the glorious B-3. My parents bought me one of those old cheapie Magnus chord organs where you could push a button and play the chord with your left hand, leaving your right hand open to play the keys. I typically ignored the buttons, preferring to learn the real chords.

Late teens came and a radio career. Radio came first. But I still loved music and tried to keep learning to play. But I never could stick with it to become proficient. I bought various guitars and even a synthesizer. I'd play a while, then put the instruments in the closet for months. I gave the synth away to a youth pastor. I had Ibanez, Alvarez, Gibson, and other guitars and basses. I even had a Conrad doubleneck 6 and 12-string for a while. Sold it back to its original owner. I bought a really cool Samick 5-string bass with the low B string, but then sold it a year later. I'd play for my own amusement, play at church on occasion in the worship team, then sell my instruments and not play again for eons. Then the bug would hit, and I'd have to find a guitar at all costs and play again. When the computer age came and I could record digitally, I had a whale of a time for a bit, but life and work intruded, and I stopped. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Now, I have an Ibanez acoustic 6-string, an Ovation 12-string acoustic, a BELOVED Rickenbacker 4001 bass, an M-Audio midi-keyboard, and computer sampling software which enables me to use the M-Audio keyboard. In addition to various synth, string, piano and effects, I have Mellotron software and Yahama CP-70 sampled grand electric piano. At home, I use cheap old Garage Band, but at my office, I have access to Pro-Tools, Adobe Audition and other recording programs, plus professional grade sound studios. To date, I have used those upper level facilities seldom. Their main purpose is to further the Gospel mission, and any personal recording needs to be done after hours. With my caregiver responsibilities, that's pretty much impossible as I can seldom stay late at night to record. At least for now. I say this not to complain. I am taking care of my Mom, and I can think of no higher honor or purpose. I will not have her in a nursing home. I had many years on my own and alone to do what I wanted. It was sufficient. Now I have the opportunity to serve her, and to repay her for the years she took care of me. I am thankful.

Will I ever see the day when I can forget the day by day job stuff, retire and focus on making music? Or at least learning how to actually play well? I hope so. But if it never happens, I will have no regrets because a song always lives in my heart. And before the throne of God, I will join many others in singing a new song. I think I might even be able to play well then. I can wait.

But to those of you who are young, would-be musicians now who are reading this—learn it now, and learn it well. If music is your God-given passion, pursue it and do it with excellence for His glory. Do not squander the gift you have been given, and do not use it for things that would bring Him shame. He is the ultimate author of music and the giver of the gift. Be grateful for it.

I am happy to be a friend, a cheerleader, and a prayer warrior. I am happy to be a listener and analyze with a musician's ear, a producer's ear, and a (oh, I HATE this term) fan's ear. One gift I do have is a good ear, and a gift for arrangement/production ideas. But all this is only as a side thing as a friendship gift, not a professional thing. I charge no fees, and will urge you to listen to the professionals in your lives, as long as they don't steer you into doing things that violate your God-given conscience. Fame and fortune is not worth selling your soul, and that's the best piece of advice I can give you.

Outside of that, rock on. I hope my little personal account will encourage you, and illustrate that we all have our own stories that are still being written. You are still writing yours. Make it a good one, and one that will glorify our God and Father.


Robert Warren said...

Hi Joel: Thanks for sharing this. I hope your Mom has recovered (is recovering) from recent issues.

Solameanie said...

Thanks, Robert. One day at a time. I am afraid she's picking up the respiratory bug that laid me flat last week. We have a specialist appointment for her tomorrow in Monroe, Wisconsin, but we also have a winter storm watch posted for tomorrow and Tuesday. Pray with me that the weather doesn't prevent her doctor appointment. Also pray that the respiratory bug doesn't get worse. Last thing she needs right now.