I said yesterday that I have been involved in church music my entire life. The truth is I have been surrounded by music of many kinds since I was old enough to remember anything. I was born in Detroit and lived there until I was seven. I recall my mother always having what I call “elevator music” playing in the house. It would have worked as dental office music, although, as much as I hated going to the dentist, if they had had music playing I might not have pursued music at all.
My mother, who died of cancer at the very young age of 49, was actually a very good pianist. She didn’t play often, and I’m not sure she ever knew I was listening when she played. I can remember her playing “Clair de Lune,” by Claude Debussy, and “Blue Moon,” by Richard Rogers. She had a wonderfully soft touch and played beautifully. My dad played the piano as well, once or twice. The only song he played was “Boogie-Woogie.” He did alright for a guy who didn’t play the piano.
I started playing cornet in the school band when I was in 5th grade. I continued playing in band through my junior year of high school when I decided I was finished. My horn was stolen during my first year of college. I still remember many of the songs from band, and I often find myself “air-playing” familiar songs when I hear them, especially at Christmas time.
I had a guitar when I was twelve and had lessons for two summers. My piano teacher during that time, Art Galonska, who was an incredible jazz pianist, was also my guitar teacher. I didn’t get any farther with the guitar than I learned during those two summers.
In eighth grade I received extra credit in History class for playing “The Second Time Around” on the piano. That was the only time I was given credit for what might be called “playing across the curriculum.”
Three of my six piano teachers emphasized classical music. I will always be thankful for the experience I had with the classics while I had teachers who could help me. I still enjoy playing a few of the masterpieces I learned. For an entire year on my own, I worked on the piano score of, “Rhapsody in Blue.” I finally was able to play through the entire piece, which is about eighteen pages long. It absolutely fascinated me that George Gershwin actually completed Rhapsody in Blue while he played it on the piano during his first performance of the classic. Genius.
I have to admit I could have learned so much more than I did while I still had piano teachers, especially two of them. They hammered chord structure and scales. My mastery of both was their plan, but I fell far short. What I didn’t learn affects me to this day. I now use all kinds of chords on the piano that I couldn’t tell you what they are. They just sound good to me. I could probably figure them out but it doesn’t matter, until I write music.
I have written a lot of music. A lot of music. It would have been so much easier if I had really known what I was doing. I started writing in 1975. A couple years later I was writing continually. The music I wrote was used in the evangelistic association we were working for at the time. I was the crusade coordinator, publications director, and music leader for all of the crusades the ministry held across the country. I often wrote entire songs inspired by the message as the evangelist preached. There were times I sang the song I wrote at the end of the service.
You have never heard any of the songs I wrote. Only a small number of people have. I don’t really know how many songs I’ve written, but I’m going to figure it out. I recently found a pile of my hand-written scores in a file cabinet. I sent most of the songs to music publishers and they went nowhere. A few were “signed” by publishers, but still went nowhere. Years ago, I received a letter from a music coordinator for a very popular southern gospel group who liked a song I wrote. She said, “This song will be good for…” (the group she performed with will remain nameless – I’m being self-serving enough without dropping names.)
So, why write music that goes nowhere? Why write book manuscripts that sit in a file cabinet? Why write a blog relatively few people read? Why build a model railroad? Because I can. The songs, manuscripts, blog posts, and my model railroad mean something to me. I honestly don’t need anyone to say, “This is really good,” to be pleased with it myself.
I’m still learning this.