In the late ‘40s, a young boy was born into a prominent family in New York. His father was a world renowned musician and songwriter who had also garnered a reputation as a humanitarian, a poet, a painter, and a wealthy and wise businessman who readily shared his wealth with those less fortunate. People knew his father’s songs by heart and his father’s art and reputation was praised all over the world.
The boy, from the time he could sit at the piano was trying to emulate his father. He would plunk out tunes on the keys by ear as best he could. He didn’t know the names of the notes or how the whole thing worked but it didn’t stop him. Day after day he would sit at the piano and play. He wanted so badly to be like his father. He dreamed of playing just like him one day.
As he grew older, he was faced with a harsh reality. Songwriting is hard work. He tried to create music but it didn’t come easy for him. He began to doubt his own ability. He began to feel unworthy because, after all, he was born into greatness and should be made of more than this.
His father was very patient with him. He never said his son should become a musician and he never guilted him into becoming one. He was very careful to build his son up and never tear him down—always believing in the son and trying to find out what made him tick.
However, the boy felt inferior. His older brother had gone on to become a famous painter—his paintings were hung in galleries worldwide. His sister became a politician and a well respected advocate for the poor and destitute. Even his younger brother—though he had some years of rebellion and consequences under his belt—went on to become a famous rock musician with a penchant for social justice.
People would often ask the boy (now a young man) how his songwriting was coming along. Some overheard him playing and began to label him a failure saying he would never be anything close to his father as an artist. He once heard someone whisper that he should just give up.
And he did.
For quite some time.
For years he wandered through life aimlessly in the shadow of his siblings. He doubted his own individuality and craftiness. Furthermore, he was a failure. He tried his hand at a few things over the years that might fill the gaping hole inside his soul but to no avail.
More than anything, he wanted to be a musician but he constantly felt beaten by his own lack of self-worth, his poor image of himself, his inability to live up to the standard others placed upon him, doubt, fear of failure, and pride. These things paralyzed him.
Still, it didn’t take much to remind him of what he believed he was made for deep down inside—a walk past the bandstand in the park, a top 40 hit in the department store, the player piano in the lobby of the hotel . . . they all greeted him like an old friend. He was often reminded of his dream.
One day, a defining moment and an act of will met eye to eye. While visiting his father in an “old folks home” he witnessed an amazing thing. While the silver-haired ladies sat playing scrabble, there his father sat—an old man well in his 80’s—at the piano in the cafeteria of the senior center. His father was grinning from ear to ear.
The song was familiar to the son. He had heard it many times growing up. Sometimes with a different tempo, sometimes with different instrumentation, but always the same unmistakable intoxicating melody that made it a humable hit.
The man mustered up the courage to sit next to his father on the piano seat and his father scooted over a bit to make room for them to share the keyboard. Much to the son’s surprise, his father was playing off a score sheet of his own music making the invitation to join him that much easier since the boy would simply have to follow the written music.
There they sat, playing the song together as others listened on. The song never sounded as beautiful as it did at this moment. When it was over, the old-folks cheered. “Encore” shouted one man from the back of the room. “Play it again, Sam!” shouted another quoting a line from an old movie they all knew well. The line was met with laughter.
“Go ahead” said the father. You take a turn. “I can’t” said the boy-man. “What is holding you back?” The answer was a whole list of things that the boy-man didn’t speak out loud but he simply answered, “I don’t have a song.” “Play this one” said the father. He put up the sheet music for another familiar song that he had once written. “It’s your song dad—it’s not my own.” “Make it your own” said his father. “Play it for them.”
The boy-man proceeded to play a beautiful melody. He followed the chords as he poured his own passion into how he moved his hands over the keys. His familiarity with the song allowed him to occasionally improvise while not changing the melody or the integrity of the original.
That day would be the moment that changed the trajectory of the boy-man’s life forever. For the next few years, until he passed away, he dedicated himself to coming once a week to the senior center to play his father’s songs for the people.
He hadn’t given up his freedoms as an artist. He experienced a new kind of freedom—a freedom from self-centeredness. A freedom from the fear that held him captive. His father’s collection of music was extensive. Week after week he would come to the home and pick a new song from his father’s book to play. The day always held a sense of expectation and freshness as he discovered fulfillment in interpreting what was written for him to share with others.