More Clearly Ourselves

I was a saxophone player once. My dad dropped me off at school an hour before the first bell every morning so I could practice. I ate quickly and spent the rest of the lunch period in the band hall making music.  When school let out I stayed after and played for another hour or so.

Then one day I sat down at a piano and picked out the main riff from “Push It” by Salt and Pepa on the piano.  Then “Peter Gunn”.  Eventually, “You’re Not Alone” by Chicago.  Girls liked that one.  I got serious about the piano.

“You’re such a good sax player,” my mom said. “I wish you wouldn’t change to piano.”

In high school I stuck with the saxophone but saved up my money to buy a keyboard.  I started writing music.  Then words.  Then, just after graduation, my sister-in-law Kathy got a guitar.  I picked it up one day, fiddled with it a little and soon I bought my own. “You’re such a good piano player,” mom said. “I wish you wouldn’t change to guitar.”

I studied music composition in college, making treks to Nashville between semesters to learn about the music business and find a job – any job – in it.  And I did.  After graduation I started an internship with a music publishing company, which led to an actual paying job, which led – in a roundabout way – to a record deal.  For the last nine years I’ve been a piano and guitar playing singer-songwriter.

But, as mom knows by now, things change.

I signed a book deal last year – or was it the year before that? – and just never wrote the book. Why is a long boring pathetic and very personal story. But the publisher still wants me to write and I feel more and more compelled and encouraged to do so.  Also, Compassion international hired me last year to start a new blogging venture with them and from time to time there’s talk of me being more involved with their ministry in some way.  Also, for a while now I’ve thought about going to school. And I get more and more opportunities to speak, which is great since there’s no luggage or cables, background singers, dancers, pyrotechnics or leather pants involved with that sort of thing.

Last week I told my mom and dad all this, that there’s a possibility, at least, that I won’t be a singer guy forever. And mom said, “I wish you wouldn’t change…”

A few days before that conversation I had an important one with Gresham.  I was putting something away in the attic when I spotted a souvenir from one of my past lives.  I pulled down the case, unsnapped it and pulled out my saxophone, the smell of abandoned brass taking me back to the pawn shop where I first played it and to the band hall where I learned to play it well.  I ran my fingers over the pearl keys and clacked them up and down, inspecting the old girl for symptoms of neglect.

“Is that a trumpet?” Gresham asked.

The neck piece slid into the body.  The mouthpiece slid onto the neck.  And I played.

I played “Blessed Assurance” while Gresham plugged his ears with thumbs.  A few jazz licks sleeping the years away in my fingers somewhere came out with surprising ease. Chromatic scale. Pentatonic scale. Major. Minor. Our old high school fight song. A sonata from college.

The whole thing reminded me of a line I heard once: We don’t change.  We just become more clearly ourselves.

“I like the guitar better,” Gresham said as I snapped the case up and slid it back between the Christmas tree and a card table and closed the attic door.

Me too.