I cannot remember a time when music was not a major part of my life. Both my parents loved music and my mother played piano very well, and loved to sing. My father was a serious student of the ukulele, and they knew all the college songs of their era, which they sang for us with two part harmonies at the slightest provocation.
I actually began my career as a guitar player when I was nine, by playing my father’s ukulele, after my sister came home from boarding school one weekend with her friend Lucy in tow, and they sang folk songs for us while Lucy played her nylon-stringed Goya guitar. I was completely transfixed, and persisted on the ukulele until my parents took pity on me and bought me a real guitar.
I immediately began forming my own band, and managed to send my father into gales of laughter, fortunately in the privacy of our home, after five of my fifth grade friends and I did a baleful rendition of “The Times They Are A ’Changin’” in a school program. I failed to see the humor of my position, and was totally captured by the intensity of Dylan’s lyrics. I still am.
My tastes were formed and informed by Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, The Byrds, Laura Nyro, and of course, Joni Mitchell, whose every recorded song I can probably sing, nuance for nuance, and will continue to remember long after I have forgotten my children’s names and what I ate for breakfast.
My music career throughout high school and college included the inevitable variety shows, choir concerts, coffee houses and wedding after wedding that underlie the experience of most of my peers. Music, my own and others’, formed the backdrop of my inner and outer lives. As I became a working adult, it took more of a back seat and I abandoned any hopes remotely professional. I grew up in the era when only people who landed recording contracts ever “made it”, and knew I was destined to be an amateur. So I played at a few hundred more weddings, got married, and had a family.
I am much more a writer than I am a musician, so I guess it makes sense that it was a writer who launched me into writing my own music. Early in the 1990’s, I read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard, and my heart was set on fire by the way she talked and wrote about God, and the revelation of God in the natural world. I saw all at once that writing and singing about a life spent in the pursuit of relationship with God did not have to be confined to the genre of “contemporary Christian music”.
And so, these songs, and many others, were born. I am now a glutton for writers who spark that flame in me, a feeling I have come to love and trust, the igniting for which I wait. It does not consist in my efforts. It may never come again.
As Annie Dillard says, “The death of the self of which the great writers speak is no violent act. It is merely the joining of the great rock heart of the earth in its roll. It is merely the slow cessation of the will’s sprint and the intellect’s chatter: it is waiting like a hollow bell with stilled tongue…The waiting itself is the thing.” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)