How I Became a Musician

     I’m the youngest of seven, in a musical family in which everyone was encouraged to learn to play an instrument by our father, a life-long reed player, & our mother, an only-child who never had the opportunity, but wished she had. Of course this meant nightly practice sessions in which each sibling futilely attempted to isolate him or herself in a portion of the house with the inevitable result being a dissonant cacophony of competition from drums or marimba, trumpet, guitar, flute, piano, & vocals in various combinations.  In grade school I chose the trombone & quickly became discouraged by the difficulty of simply producing a single, musical-sounding note, much less actual music.

     Inspired by my brother, a talented young lead guitarist in a regularly gigging rock band, I became enamored not only by the now “classic” rock covers they performed, but by the immense volume of their basement rehearsals(1,000W PA …big for the era) & the enormity of the equipment involved.  At the age of eleven I decided that keyboards were the instrument for me as they dispensed with the difficulty of producing a steady pitch, unlike the trombone, as all that was required was simply plunking down a key: instant note! I then set about building my own “synthesizer” which was really just a couple of kids’ Radio Shack electronic project kits that provided instructions for wiring together various simple circuits within a flat box by inserting wires into springs connected to a variety of common electronic components(caps, resistors, transistors, etc).  My end result was basically a crude oscillator with one knob for pitch gated by a Morse code key with the output run variously through a guitar amp’s tone controls & spring reverb & some effects pedals when available(wah, phaser).  So it was far more of a noise maker than a synth by any stretch, but people were still impressed, at least by the effort.  Meanwhile I continued to read voraciously about synthesizers & one day the concepts all finally became clear when I touched my first real synth, a Moog/Realistic Concertmate MG-1 on display at Radio Shack; I was hooked.

     My parents had a long-standing tradition of being willing to split the cost of our first quality musical instrument with any of us siblings provided we demonstrated sufficiently serious interest & motivation in “sticking with it” if purchased.  For me this required that I take a minimum of one year of formal piano lessons, perhaps hoping this would discourage me.  To the contrary they found a wonderful teacher who soon recognized my ability to pick things up quickly & play by ear.  She encouraged this along with basic training in reading music & proper fingerings.  After the year was through I continued the lessons while scouring the weekly for-sale ads in the swapper/trader papers in search of my first used synth.  My decision was based more on price range than my limited knowledge, although I knew I wanted one with at least two oscillators for a fuller sound.   Finally my ship came in: a model 2813 Arp Odyssey II with case. True to the agreement, my mother went with me to see it & we made the purchase split 50/50. We got home late that night & with school the following morning I was not allowed to start “fooling” with it until the following day.  Never in my life, before or since that day, have I been sooo excited about anything; I absolutely could not wait to get home & begin unraveling the mysteries contained behind that dauntingly complex control panel.  My father continued to silently shun the purchase based on the bleeps & bloops of early experiments in electronic music until, over time, he gradually heard me beginning to make real music with it atop our acoustic piano.  See a 1981 pic of me with this synth click for image.  Geez, check out the giant glasses, “The Clash” t-shirt, & adolescent mustache effort!

Thanks for reading my lengthy story!


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