It’s an honest question, and one I knew I would have to answer at some point.
I grew up in a small town in northern New England. There, at the age of five, my love for music began. I would get home from morning kindergarten, have lunch, and then every afternoon, my mother would take me down to the basement, where we had an old upright grand piano, to teach me about music. However, before she ever allowed me to play a single note on the piano, she taught me basic music theory and how to read music. It was only after I mastered this that she started teaching me how to play piano.
And so my love affair with music began. I picked up clarinet in elementary school, and through my teen years learned how to play sax, oboe and flute. I took piano lessons on and off through high school. My dream job was becoming a high school band director. I had my little four piece high school rock cover band, with dreams of hitting it big and touring the world. And I had no doubt that I was going to be a musician for the rest of my life.
After graduating high school, I attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, pursuing my dream of teaching music. It should come as no surprise to hear that the 3 1/2 years I spent at Berklee were the most formative years of my musical life, but it may surprise you to hear the lessons I learned. The first of these lessons was learned within my first week- I was not going to be a performer that set the world on fire. The small town boy was now surrounded by a level of talent that many of us can only dream of attaining. I was in class with musicians who are among the Music Gods of my generation. I didn’t possess the drive or commitment necessary to hone the craft of the instrument. I had friends that spent every waking hour practicing, when not in class. They were perfecting the art of music performance. I could never find the need or desire to do the same.
You would think that would be enough to crush any musical aspirations I had, but it didn’t. I had other lessons to learn. The next lesson was that while I couldn’t make that full time commitment to the instrument, I had a knack for writing, arranging and orchestrating music. I was the book smart musician. Those great performers I mentioned could play circles around the competition, but always came to me for help when it came to the classwork. What was so difficult for them came second nature to me. I still use the writing techniques I learned in the classroom to this day. In addition, I was exposed to so much ‘new’ music, listening to styles and groups I had never encountered before. This allowed me to develop a huge palette of musical tastes. It also refined my ear to be able to quickly identify really good music, no matter the genre. I have the ability to listen to music in its purest form, dissecting the layers of a song and hearing each instrument distinctly from the others.
It was only very recently that I was able to look back at all of this and understand what was going on at the time. For the performers, their instrument was the end to the means. All of the work culminated in their playing proficiency. For me, it was just the opposite. The instrument was a means to the end. Playing gave me song ideas, which I would then commit to paper. And while I never had the commitment to be a performer, I would stay up all night, writing original music and arranging known music. It was fun. That was my place in the musical world.
It was a much different time in the world of music. In order to be successful, you had to be discovered by one of the major labels, which meant you had to be a performer. There was no internet, and the ‘independent’ music scene was extremely localized, with no way to garner attention outside of a relatively small region. The ability of a songwriter to break through, simply on the strength of their compositions, was contingent on being in the exactly right place at exactly the right time. I never had that kind of luck.
I left Berklee, not necessarily disillusioned, but more wandering aimlessly. I had discovered that the world of teaching required much more structure than I was willing to provide, meaning that it was not a good fit for me. I worked in local record stores and did some local open mic nights (while not proficient, I could still play) for a number of years. As I entered my thirties, I got married and started a family. It was at this point that I decided I needed to put music off to the side and focus on providing for my family. I felt I needed to become a responsible adult. And here I sit, over 25 years later, sharing the story.
The story might be incredibly sad if it had ended there. But it didn’t. I have been in and out of music during that time, doing little things here and there. A little over year ago, I rediscovered my passion for writing music. It took a huge crisis in life for that to occur (more on that another time), but I have slowly reintroduced myself back into the community I love and have missed for too many years. I was also introduced to world of today’s indie music scene by an old high school friend. And now, I have a new dream, which is to help this new generation of performers and artists gain the largest audience possible by putting some of my talents to good use. This is my way of giving back to the art form that I have loved for longer than I have been able to read.
There you have it. No regrets, no hard feelings. I am a musician. Always will be. And now you know a little bit about my story. However, I think I still have a chapter or two to add, and I believe a happy ending is even in the works. Stay tuned, because this should be a load of fun.