Written August 28, 2011
Elmo was talking with Big Bird and a little baby was sitting next to them. Elmo asked Big Bird, “When will the baby walk?” and Big Bird responded, “When it’s ready!”
This episode of Sesame Street was perfectly timed in my life, when I was a young parent. My 18 month old had still not taken her first steps and I kept thinking, what’s wrong with her? Why is she not like all the other kids in the Mommy and Me class?
As my second child approached her first birthday, I was not paying attention when, one day at the park, she was contentedly playing on the ground next to a bench and then suddenly pulled herself up to a standing position and began her first, wobbly bipedal motion.
It was then that the voices of all my friends with children older than mine began echoing in my head… “My kids couldn’t be more different”… “Just when you think you know what to expect, they surprise you”… “Each child is unique!”
The baby books give timelines for physical developmental milestones, which are helpful, but as my children started preschool, their educational milestones started coming into focus and I started to slowly but surely reconnect back to my own education.
I was a very slow bloomer in school. In elementary school I only wanted to play. I could not understand why I had to go to school at all, and the memorization of spelling words (all learned from a list, out of context), was particularly perplexing. I now realize that most of my learning was in the abstract and it felt like, each day, the process of filling me up with this information (the stuff I was supposed to master in order to be successful in life) was akin to being flogged with a blunt instrument.
By 8th grade I was the singer in a garage band with some friends (primarily because my brother owned a PA system). My voice changed over the summer before high school, and to avoid being kicked out of the band, I learned how to play the bass guitar since we didn’t have a bass player. It was easy. I listened to records and taught myself.
During my freshman year of high school I was on the swim team and happily played bass in the garage band. During my sophomore year, I joined the school choir. Now that my voice had fully changed, I could sing again without the annoying cracking. About mid-year the teacher assembled a “combo” of kids who played pop guitar, bass, drums and piano. We accompanied the choir on contemporary tunes. My favorite was “The Bread Medley” (who can forget “Baby I’m a Want You”)?
After our spring concert, I was approached by a new teacher who had just begun working in our high school as the assistant band director. He happened to play electric and acoustic bass. He asked how long I’d played, and if I would be interested in learning the bass violin (which the school just happened to have). I said yes and began meeting him after school for lessons. He taught me how to read music, both commercially printed and hand engraved…the type that professional musicians would read on a “gig.” He gave me jazz records to listen to since my influences were strictly pop at that point and the role of the bass in a jazz combo quickly opened me up to the role of the bass in the orchestra. He saw that I had some raw talent and he began to masterfully cultivate it.
By the end of my junior year, I actually started getting pretty good grades and academics magically weren’t so useless and abstract. Mr. Mincher, the assistant band director, started to inquire about my thoughts for college. I told him I planned to go to business school since my dad was a steel salesman. I just assumed that would be my vocation, “like father, like son.” Never mind that I had no passion for math, marketing, or metallurgy.
Mr. Mincher sensed this disconnect, and asked if my parents would be open to a meeting. As it turned out, he ended up coming over to our house for dinner (I still can’t remember just how that transpired), and it didn’t exactly get off to a very auspicious start. Mr. Mincher began by suggesting to my parents that I pursue music in college. Now, remember my dad was a salesman and he could not wrap his head around how a musician makes a living, so after some “negotiating,” Mr. Mincher and I arrived at a compromise: I’d pursue music education. My dad could accept this, since he knew how teachers made a living…plus teachers had a union, so he felt assured that all was good.
Fast forward 35 years.
Thanks to Mr. Mincher’s ability to see and help nurture my unique talents, and develop a spark in me that I would have just swept under the rug, I’ve been a professional musician my entire adult life. I made a living playing my instrument both for live entertainment and in the studio. I’ve owned my own studio for a decade, I’ve written and produced music for people on 6 continents, and I’ve been music director for Sesame St. Live for 15 years. I know Big Bird personally.