The Right Moment
One of my favorite games was gathering three or four of my friends in my basement for an hour of playing at rock stars. We would grab old tennis racquets for guitars, long stick from outside and hard bound books placed on the bed worked well as drums. A vacuum cleaner made a perfect microphone. It was my game and as such I picked the music. I knew every lyric (at least I thought I did) and was always the singer. On good days, my sister would have some friends over and we had a built in audience.
I played this game alone in my basement room as a teenager. I would imagine myself on stage playing a killer guitar and making all the ladies swoon. It was a mystery to me how I could so easily fantasize myself a musician, but was so unwilling to actually pick up an instrument and learn to play. None of my close friends were musicians, which may have had something to do with it. If there had been a group of us wanting to make music, I may have found some motivation to learn, but I am unwilling to put my lack of effort on someone else.
During the last three months of my mission, I was in a town called Wolfeboro. Easily my favorite place in New England, it is located in eastern New Hampshire on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. I was there in the fall and while most of the north east is spectacular when the leaves change colors, the area around this lake is the best. I spent many evenings down at a small boat dock, lying on the planks, staring out into the sky or the lake.
One night after spending an hour or so at this boat dock, I had dinner with a family in the area. We got along very well with them, and I felt completely comfortable at their home. Steve Duffy was a recent convert to the LDS church and loved to do anything for the missionaries. During the course of the meal, it came up that Steve loved to play guitar. With a little prodding he was convinced to play a few songs for us. I was transfixed by it. Watching him was my first experience seeing someone who could actually play up close. I really can’t say if he was super sensational or just average, but to me, it was amazing. His fingers moved effortlessly and if he missed a note or a chord I was oblivious to it. As we were getting ready to leave that night, I mentioned that I always wished I could play. He said there was no time like the present and loaned me an older guitar he had along with a book to help me learn a few things.
I eagerly jumped in, learning what seemed easiest. I could force my fingers onto the strings and with some sloppiness, play a chord for two strums. No matter how hard I tried, I could not put two chords together. I practiced every night for a month and I remember clearly when I played a successful chord change-G to C- and I actually let out a loud yell. Sadly, that was the end of my success as the guitar had to go back.
A few years later, a good friend of mine loaned me a bass guitar. The two of us made some really simple but fun music. I learned to play totally by ear and most often, just what my friend taught me. I found I had some skill for it. Once again, I found some reason to stop. School, work, family, they took priority and I let anything I had learned fade away.
After being rejected by the three graduate schools I applied to, Sheryl bought me a guitar as a “consolation prize”. It was a beautiful but inexpensive instrument. A solid cedar top, it had a very deep and satisfying sound. The fret board was quite wide, which was good for my novice fingers. Unlike my previous efforts, this was the right time. I dove in with passion, often practicing for hours a day. My goal was to learn and play 12 chords in the first year. I underestimated what would happen once a few things came into place. 12 turned into 20 and once the bar chords joined the arsenal, the numbers no longer mattered.
I never had much interest in playing other peoples music, which has made my learning more difficult (that plus not learning to read music and struggling with TAB). Not to mention, if someone wants me to play, I have nothing to show them that they might have heard. Still, I loved putting things together, learning on my own what chords and notes sounded best together. I am not at all accomplished at the instrument, and I should practice much more and though this next idea is not very poignant, it has been a recurring theme in my life. I have always had the ability to play the guitar, just not the motivation, determination or desire. Those things I had to learn. When the time is right, when those things all come together, when I am ready, I can accomplish things.
Tell me your stories.
And look at my pretty instruments.