At my grade school reunion, several classmates told me that learning a musical instrument remained an unfulfilled dream. Classmate Mike Miles was at the opposite end of the spectrum. Mike was the longtime director of the Old Town School of Folk Music and is currently the school’s composer in residence.
Mike told me that adults learn an instrument differently from a child. I took this to mean that a child’s brain absorbs music like a fresh sponge, while my brain is more like the dried out sponge we used on the stairs. Nevertheless, Mike encouraged me to continue practicing. He also suggested finding some “sympathetic” listeners, because playing in solitude is not very satisfying. Finally, Mike said I should talk about my musical journey because it might inspire others to become older beginners.
So, here’s my story. After a year of taking lessons in Forest Park, I was stuck on page 37 of my beginner piano book. Being on the back nine of life, I didn’t have any more time for music theory, so I bought songbooks. The ones I like spell out the notes in big letters and could be found in the toddler section of most music stores.
My career then received an incredible boost when my neighbors practically donated an upright piano to me. More importantly, they supplied most of the muscle to move it. This perfectly tuned piano had a warm resonance and was a thrill to play.
I was still using a keyboard, though and the paint-peeling amp I purchased in Forest Park for gigs with The Lemurs. We were atop the rock world at Christmas and reunited for a triumphal show at the Pioneer Tap on Aug. 16. Our reunion tour continued when we landed the coveted 11 a.m. slot at the Shortstop Lounge on Sunday, Aug. 24.
The Lemurs lineup includes Crusty and my high school classmate Christopher “Rockin'” Robin on guitar, and Just Dan, my brother, on lead vocals and percussion. We didn’t have our usual crush of fans, so the bartender Mohua was able to lend her sweet vocals on several songs.
Meanwhile, I was still looking for that elusive sympathetic audience that Mike had mentioned. I had tried blood relatives but they lacked the stamina to listen to my stumbling fingers. So, I played my big note songs at the Shortstop – selections from the Sinatra songbook and “My Fair Lady.” The response was astonishing. Over the next two hours, I received one request and $3 in tips.
Once again, I could dream about quitting my day job. In fact, Just Dan said I was almost smooth enough to do something I’ve only dreamed about – play background music for the ignoring public.