(Anyone remember this from the original Schoolhouse Rock TV shorts in the 1970s?)
Every person represents the intersection between herself and the parents who brought her into the world and/or raised her.
Siblings, count, of course; they give us our first and deepest peer relationships and they have their own special influence in our lives.
But the primary intersection between a child and her parents is a very specific threesome that plays out in all sorts of ways, and which is not always predictable.
In my case, the magic of three resulted in my being a very creative person. From a young age, I learned how to make things from other things (pretend knight's armor from cardboard; doll clothing from my mom's sewing scraps; a tree fort with ladder from construction site leftovers); and I learned how to entertain myself with stories and songs when other kids weren't around to play with.
I also learned how to play with the elements of music, thanks to a combination of DNA and the proximity of my parents' fake books.
My parents were my very first music teachers, which was a no-brainer because they were also musicians themselves. I grew up in a home filled with music. It was in the oxygen I breathed.
My mom was a talented visual artist who studied fashion design, first at the High School of Industrial Art in New York City, and then briefly at Pratt Institute. She could also sing. Somewhere along the way, she realized it would be easier -- and better -- to get paid for creating beauty than to pay for the privilege, so she quit Pratt after a year and started singing in nightclubs in Greenwich Village and elsewhere, as a solo act with a trio and later as a band singer.
My dad was a child prodigy who picked out popular tunes on a neighbor's piano at age three. By age four he was taking lessons and by nine he had outpaced his teacher and was playing radio shows for money. As a teen he was awarded a scholarship to study piano and voice at Philadelphia's Academy of Music, which was basically a sort of feeder school for Curtis. By the time he was sixteen, he had a union card and was playing piano bar in nightclubs on the weekends while still in high school.
In short, I came from some pretty serious musical stock.
So when I began singing songs from the radio and matching pitch in kindergarten, and making up drum beats on a friend's giant rubber ball in second grade, my parents began paying attention. I didn't like singing in front of people in those days -- yikes! too vulnerable! -- but I loved making up rhythms on any handy surface. When I was nine we moved to the West Coast and my dad bought me a little set of toy bongo drums, which I proceeded to pound daily as I played along to every record in the house. (Six months later, my mom found another set of toy bongos at a yard sale the replace the set I'd destroyed. Perhaps hoping to make this set last longer, she introduced me to the idea of dynamics in music.)
The following year I joined the school band and learned how to play drums. By age fourteen I was being hired to play drums and percussion in local pit orchestras -- and the rest, as they say, was history.
Along the way, the magic of that intersection would be supportive, never pushy. My parents allowed me the time and space to be a kid, and almost never bugged me about practice. Instead, they allowed me to explore music and all sorts of other interests -- geology, history, poetry, drawing and more -- in the ways that inspired me at the time. (My parents were basically the opposite of helicopter parents. I suppose that if the Sudbury school model had existed back then, I would've been an ideal candidate.)
If I had a question about something musical, I'd ask one of them and they'd answer if they could; or they'd steer me towards resources to explore on my own. My mom taught me about phrasing, how to shape a section of a melody so it had breath and forward movement, first by playing examples of her favorite jazz singers and later by singing examples herself. My dad taught me how to write manuscript in a clean hand, and encouraged my youthful attempts in composition and arranging.
By the time I was in high school, it was clear that I wanted some kind of career in music, without any prodding from my folks.
Today I am the musician I wanted to become.
I teach, I compose and I perform. I am the musician my parents -- both of blessed memory -- inspired me to become, albeit in a landscape that neither of them could have imagined for me. I wish they were here to see how far I've come; and I wish I could tell them they've been sitting my on shoulders the whole time, reminding me that I come from good and loving musical stock. I am so blessed by my parents in this regard, and grateful that they gave me the freedom to explore my gifts without judgment or pressure. That freedom may well have been the best musical gift they gave to me.
I'm so grateful today for that freedom, and I love them both more than the whole wide world's fair.
When it comes to the ways our parents can inhabit each of us, so individually and distinctly, three really is a magic number.
How do your parents inhabit you?
And stay tuned.