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.