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Opportunity to engage…

by | Oct 26, 2020 | engage, Opportunity, Van Halen

Some of my first memories are musical – playing records at 78 because the would go faster 😉  And of course, the College Kids dancing and having fun while music was playing set the standard that those go together.  I took piano and quickly got good enough to improvise particularly Boogie Woogie music, and luckily my Piano teacher figured out early to let me try out more “modern” music. While I still had to do scales, etc, she bought sheet music for Light My Fire (The Doors), which no matter how hard I tried never sounded QUITE as good. When we moved to Tyler, our teacher was MUCH more formal, and wanted us to play for “The Guild”. A big deal, you would prepare a piece and go on stage alone, and play before a “jury”.  While waiting for my turn, another boy played the most amazing piece, and I was fully engaged in listening.  I was next, and walked on stage… and had absolutely no memory of what to play… 

Like parents the world over, the van Halen’s wanted their kids to have more Opportunity than either of them. And as many did, they started the boys early with piano lessons, and having a musician in the family had even more emphasis.  Eddie’s middle name was the Dutch spelling of Ludwig, and he and Alex started when they were 6 and 7 with a Russian teacher in Amsterdam.  Eddie had a great ability to play, but never actually could read music.  Even with the lessons, he would listen intently as the teacher played, and was able to quickly mimic it well enough that few knew he couldn’t.  The theory of music was literally beaten into them – she used a ruler to enforce a focus on perfection. The lessons continued in Pasadena, and they both became proficient enough that they were entered in a city-wide piano competition.  They had to practice a specific piece for the competition, and then… were not allowed to have music…

…which of course made it easier for Eddie. In interviews later in life, he would quip he could ONLY play when he could see his hands, and this competition was set up so that was not only not frowned on, it was expected.  He would actually learn the piece listening to his brother, master it, and then add just enough improvisations to make his “stand out”.. and as they were being compared to others who may or may not have “memorized” the piece correctly, his ‘additions’ were seen as “expected”.  He and his brother won – 3 years in a row.  I read an article about Elton that described the piano as “percussion”, and if you think about it, you hit the keys, and they hit the strings with a hammer – so fair enough.  Both the Van Halen’s had a great musical rhythm and foundation that would be overlooked at first as “just a party band”. 

After a few tense moments, I started to play something, and it eventually…well, my Dad had a great saying “All’s well that ends”.  I had tired of the focus on Bach, Mozart, and the little statues you would “earn” if you mastered the pieces.  Luckily about that time is when the opportunity to get involved with Speech and Debate surfaced, and I plowed my creative energies into that. And like Eddie, many, many hours were spent mastering those skills – mine were in libraries across Texas digging into arcane topics like Presidental Politics, and Scarce World Resources – a couple of topics that are timeless.  To this day, people who try to challenge my foundations in those areas find, as with the Van Halen’s, those early years really paid off 😉  And like them, it was great to have something that I started to see as my own talent, my own ability, and my own Opportunity.

Guts are important, and can only take you so far. Opportunity- what it looks like, how to see it, and leverage and engage it – I think that merits some investigation.  I promised you some other music that is not as hard as the normal Van Halen fare, and plan to do that, and also, to explore the other elements of their story that brought them into such a prominent role in music.  Each record had some amazing instrumentals, like Cathedral, and today’s, and as you start to really listen, you will hear lots of overtones of jazz, classical, blues, even country. As we are all reassessing our own Opportunities coming out of this crisis, let’s start to investigate what might be real, and what is just inertia to continue the same path we were trudging along… This cut from Van Halen II showed guitar players everywhere that if they were going to catch Eddie, it was not effects, or even guitars… it was real talent. and not just a little … Spanish Fly. 

 

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