So last week I found myself doing something I had not done in quite some time. After a long day at the office, I raced home to change clothes, pack up a couple of guitars, my amp, cables, music stand, and headed to spend the evening in front of a packed house.
Butterflies swirling, sweat beginning to bead on my forehead, pulse picking up a bit, I toiled away at soundcheck hoping to get things set up before the crowd filed in…most performers know that feeling we get just before the lights go on and we hit the stage. There was that minor panic when I flipped on the amp to find nothing coming out but it turned out to me a simple flip of a switch.
This was no run-of-the-mill gig though. Nope. I’ve played packed shows at the Arena Theater and George R. Brown, I’ve played in empty dive bars. But this ladies and gentlemen…this was The Night.
I was invited to sit in with Girl Scouts troop 114011, aka the “Sweet Squirrels” to help them earn their music badge.
That’s right, no smoky bar full of disinterested girlfriends staring at their phones, band mates complaining about the sound, or getting the stink eye from other bands on the bill. Nope, last night was perfect.
I spent the evening at their weekly meeting and helped these lovely and wildly enthusiastic young ladies earn their “Junior Music Badges” and “Music Fun Patches”.
I gave a brief presentation on the history of acoustic and electric guitars, how harmonicas work, and some of the great players and songwriters associated with each instrument with particular attention paid to some trailblazing women like Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, and a couple of modern artists like Norah Jones and St. Vincent.
We listened to “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles and compared it to three international versions. We enjoyed “Gul Gul Gul Är Var Undervattningsbat” by Sweedish singer/songwriter Per Myrberg, “Submarino Amarillo” by the famed Barcelona group Los Mustang, and then we listened to Willy Chirino’s salsa-flavored take from his 2011 album, My Beatles Heart.
We discussed the differences and similarities and then turned to lyrics and songwriting before taking our own stab at writing a verse using the same meter and melody of Yellow Submarine. Lastly the girls each took turns exploring the different instruments we had: guitars, piano, a little organ, some percussion instruments, and I made sure that each of them went home with their own miniature harmonica. (Parents, no need to thank me. The pained and knowing faces you made when you realized you now lived with a passionate harmonica player is thanks enough haha)
These young ladies were so engaged and enthusiastic that I could have spent all night answering their fantastic questions. They picked up on some of the most subtle nuances between the different versions of “Yellow Submarine.” One girl noticed that there was a tambourine buried in the mix of Los Mustang’s version while another picked up on a slight echo on Per Myrberg’s vocal.
Their questions came in rapid-fire bursts, hands rocketing upward in hopes of being the first to be acknowledged.
“Why is that guitar hollow, but that one isn’t?”
“What is that made out of?”
“When did electric guitars start getting really popular?”
“Who invented the guitar?”
So too were their answers bursting with thoughtful enthusiasm when prompted with a question.
“So who likes to write poems or stories?”
That question was greeted with a loud chorus of “ME! ME! ME!”
“Ok, so where do you get the words from?”
One girl’s answer exploded more quickly than her hand could even raise, “Oh I know, I know, I KNOW! My head!”
Another girl answered that she got her inspiration from reading other stories and poems while another shot up, almost jumping off the floor to say, “I get them from my heart!”
Are you kidding me?!
How can anyone sit in front of a group of kids like that and not be inspired, humbled, and thankful?
It was truly one of the most gratifying and joyful evenings I’ve spent as a musician in I don’t know how long. One of Cathedral Records’central goals is to cultivate creativity and music appreciation among kids who may have the interest but not necessarily access or guidance. It’s not just about promoting and assisting current artists, it’s about helping guide the next crop of players who are just getting started.
I’m truly grateful to the troop leaders for inviting me into their circle for the evening and letting me spend a little while sharing what little I have to offer with their wonderful daughters. I’m also very thankful to the young ladies themselves for being so wonderful and engaged. It really warms this cold heart and inspires me in so many ways.
I hope to have more opportunities like this because I believe nothing keeps us young and inspired like being around young and inspired people.
I encourage ALL of my fellow musicians throughout the community to seek out and embrace these kinds of opportunities. It’s good for the community, it’s good for the kids, and it’s good for you.
Until next time….
Be Well and Kind,