Sticking with the theme of "Three Great Men," I'd like to write about each one individually. My dad was, obviously, the first of these men to have a great impact on my life. He loved music and had always wanted to learn an instrument, but there was no money left in the family by the time it came to him, so he was self-taught. He could play a little guitar, ukulele and saxophone, and he sang all the time. By the time I was 3, I was already singing rounds, descants and harmony. I can still remember most of the songs he taught me. He and my mom told me often that I sang before I spoke. Mom was a little concerned, but Dad loved it.
As much as he loved music though, he was a perfectionist and expected perfection from me. When it came time for me to play an instrument in school, I chose the violin. They borrowed a full-sized violin from a friend, and I started my lessons. Like most beginners, I was nervous and timid with the bow. The violin squeaked and whined terribly. My family teased me unmercifully and made me practice in the dirty, dark, dank unheated basement until I finally gave it up. Not long after, I overheard my parents talking about a piano they could have for $25 plus moving expenses. I ran in, begging for the piano. They insisted that they weren't going to invest in another instrument for me when I had given up the violin so quickly. I promised to take it seriously and pleaded some more until they finally relented. I still have that piano. It's a beauty, and I've had too many offers from tuners and other musicians to buy it. I took formal lessons for 9 years, learning classical music. Although I rarely play piano for fun anymore, I use it as a tool for composing.
Dad also surrounded himself with musicians. One of his friends, Sterns Woodman, could play any instrument by ear. I could sing a song to him that he had never heard, and he could play it back to me beautifully. He was a huge inspiration. Dad's circle of friends were into Big Band and Jazz. In addition to those genres, Dad was into classical music and blues. He had a large record collection, including 78s and played them often. There was rarely silence in our household. We sang and sang and sang, at home, in the car, on walks, as a family and with others.
My father was also a newspaperman, working his way up from a cub reporter and news photographer to city editor to editor-in-chief. He insisted on perfect grammar and spelling and encouraged my writing. When I was in high school, I wrote music reviews for the paper and often went into the office and wrote headlines. That's a skill involving math, creative writing and spatial design. As a result of my dad's influence, I'm a very concise writer, saying what I need to say in few words while still able to get my point across.
In spite of our differences, and there were many, and the fact that he was very hard on me, my dad remains one of the biggest influences in my life. I wish I'd known while he was still alive, how proud he was. I always strove in vain for his approval and didn't find out until after his death how much he admired me. Thank-you for the gifts you gave me, Dad. Because of you, I can't imagine a life without music.
Last week, I lost my former partner, Dick Kavanaugh. We had been together for twenty years and apart for the past four. We combined our two families enjoying our children and grandchildren together. We shared music and performed together for the last fifteen of those years. For me, and for him, our four years apart didn’t erase the twenty years together. This recent loss has made me think a lot about my life.
I spent the first twenty years of my life at home or very close by in a close relationship with my parents, especially with my dad. I was raised in a musical environment, surrounded with classical music, jazz, Big Band and blues. My dad sang all the time. He sang me to sleep, and woke me with a song. He taught me harmony, rounds and descants at a very early age. We sang after dinner, at parties and in the car. I still remember most of the songs we sang and have sung them for my kids and grand-kids. For my second twenty years, I traveled the country from coast to coast multiple times with my husband, raised a family, had amazing adventures and shared music. At that time, the music was mostly rock & roll. We had a variety of bands and co-wrote many songs. During my third twenty years, I lived with a partner who was immersed in the world of folk music. I learned to play guitar by backing up Old Time and Irish fiddle tunes. He gave me a mandolin, banjo and dulcimer to play and encouraged me to learn them. Each of those men taught me a lot about music, and each one of them is now gone.
When we make music with others, we form a very close bond. It’s a heart to heart connection. Anyone who sings in a group or has been part of an ensemble knows what that feels like. When you also live with those people, the bond is even stronger. It’s all interconnected within your personal life. Each time I was separated from these men, the music bond made it even harder to step away. Each time, I lost the music bond as well. My dad and I never really sang much after I left home. My husband and I tried to keep our band together, but it was too interwoven with our shared history. My second partner and I didn’t even try to keep playing together. Too much had happened between us at that point. There was too much pain. It’s been important for me to recognize that double whammy. This next relationship is not a musical one. We both work in the field, and he does help me out in his field of expertise, but we don’t perform or write together, and that’s just the way I want it. I'm not sure I want to go through that intense musical connection again with the person I love.
At Dick’s funeral on Saturday and the calling hours on Sunday, it was difficult to find my place. I was no longer his partner but had been with him the longest. I knew who his friends were and what kind of service he wanted. I may have known him better than his children knew him, but I didn’t want to overstep my bounds. Some of my friends understood how complicated and heartbreaking it was for me, but most people saw me as part of his past, out of the loop. Some of his newer friends didn’t know me at all and came up to tell me all about him. One of them wanted to tell me all about the CD we had released, not realizing that we had done it together. One of them wanted to explain what the symbolism on the cover meant. “The tree on the cover was from a dream I had,” I finally said to this young man. “There’s a whole story behind it.” “Oh! … what? Your dream? On his CD?” was the reply. Yes, our CD. Our shared music. Our shared life. Just because I wasn’t living with him at the end doesn’t mean we didn’t still have that long life together.
I have lived my life in 20-year segments with three important men in my life. They're all gone now. I have no one to sit with and remember the times that only we shared. Yes, I have my children, step-children and grandchildren. I have my brother and sister, old friends. I'm not alone. But, they didn’t share many of those experiences. They didn’t hitchhike across the country with me. They didn’t travel to Germany for music with me. They didn’t ache with me during the hard times and love with me during the good times. Those three men were also very influential to my music, and I can no longer share that with them, either. I had three very different lives with three very different men who all loved and participated in very different music. Very few people realize how multi-faceted this loss is for me, and that’s okay. But, I think it will take me a while to bounce back from this one and, as always, I will sing and play and depend on my music for healing.
Please support your local musicians! We can't survive without you.