And I had dreams that I would learn to play guitar, maybe cross the country, become a rock star – Something Corporate, “Konstantine”
Twenty-three years. That’s how long I’ve been playing an instrument of some sort. It also means I’ve focused (in some way or another) on producing music for roughly two-thirds of my life. Why? What causes a person to become a musician? As you can imagine, there are several reasons– and they vary from person to person… But here’s my personal journey.
My very first instrument was the piano. Like many kids whose parents want them to play something, my family’s upright piano was always just there. When I hit second grade, my parents decided it was time for me to take lessons from the school music teacher. This is one of the many ways a person can head down the path to becoming a musician: Involuntarily.
I trundled off to lessons when I had to and practiced when I was forced and/or threatened, but I didn’t enjoy it until the end of my first lesson book. When I moved on to the second book (which was much more difficult), I decided I didn’t like the piano after all and begged my parents to let me quit. They acquiesced, and that decision is one of the big regrets of my life.
Fast forward a couple of years to the sixth grade. My teacher was offering guitar lessons after school for a couple of weeks, and I distinctly remember thinking, “Why would anyone want to learn how to play the guitar?” This, dear readers, is what I call Foreshadowing.
Jump ahead to the next chapter: Those who’ve survived it refer to it as the Seventh Grade– where we had to choose between choir, band and a general music studies course. For some reason, I decided to jump into music and picked alto saxophone as my instrument. The alto sax had special meaning to me– my dad also played it in the 7th Grade. For the next six years, I performed in both concert and jazz bands– as well as competed in small group ensemble events.
But I still didn’t consider myself a musician. Sure, I played music, but I didn’t make music. At some point in high school, I decided it would also be fun to learn how to play bass guitar, so I put my name in for lessons at a local music store– but never got a call back about it (this would be more foreshadowing).
If there’s a pivotal point in my story, it would be the day after my 18th birthday. I had just graduated from high school and a buddy of mine came over– all excited about learning how to read tablature for guitar– and showed me how to read it as well, so I could start playing. On June 25th 1998, I fell in love with the guitar and playing music. For the first time, I truly felt like I was making music. I could only play a couple of chords but as punk rock proves, that’s all you need.
Six months later and half way through my first year in college, I managed to convince a couple of guys to start a band with me. We were horrible, but man– did we have fun. We even got to record one of our original songs (the only good one) for a CD featuring solo musicians and bands from campus. The disc, aptly named Campus Groove Recordings, was one of the first times I was fortunate enough to record original music.
Over the course of my college career (and for several years after), I played in different bands, recorded a single I wrote, recorded a full album of original music with one of the bands, wrote and recorded acoustic instrumental music and played my heart out in front such “large crowds” as four people. I learned to play violin (very poorly) and, during the big concert on campus at the end of my senior year, I got up on stage and played guitar for one of my top-three all-time favorite songs (This Time of Year)– with one of my favorite bands, Better Than Ezra.
Over the next ten years, I found myself playing in a couple of bands that mostly focused on originals, before landing my current role in a cover band. After years of writing original music with a variety of talented folks, I love being able to focus on playing cover music with some of the most gifted musicians I’ve ever played with. Playing for truly big crowds and seeing people dancing and having a blast– all because of what I’m involved in– has made the last 23 years of toil and practice worth it.
So, what makes someone a musician? They do. Yeah, that’s a little vague, but it’s true. If you love making music of any kind, on any instrument, and what you do truly moves you– then you’re a musician. It’s that simple. Your story can be a long, semi-convoluted journey like mine– or short and straightforward… But as long as you enjoy making music, you’re a musician.
But, you’re probably asking, “Why spend all that time learning and practicing an instrument to play to four people? Why put yourself through all that when making it big in the music industry are slim odds at best?”
Rock star dreams, of course.
Or maybe it’s just a way of expressing yourself. Or maybe you want to connect with others– and music lets you do that. Or maybe you just want to entertain people, or share your love of music and how it moves you… Or maybe you want nothing more than to know four chords on a guitar so you can play your favorite Johnny Cash tunes while sitting on your deck at night.
It doesn’t matter why you do it, as longs as it means something to you. Music moves people– whether it’s just you, a group of people or a stadium of screaming fans.