It has been almost three years since I started this solo singer-songwriter project. The key part of making this a “solo” effort was getting arrangements for my songs on guitar that could hold up all by themselves, and then being able to play them well. This was important to me because I realized when my band broke up that I did not have the confidence to play out by myself simply because I knew my guitar skills were lacking.
A few weeks ago, I played a gig that many musicians would scorn. It could not have been more BGM – background music. I would play a song, finish, and no one seemed to notice, except to speak a little softer because they didn’t have to speak over me and my music. I was happy for the gig – I’m still happy about any gig – because even though people were not supposed to be listening, there always are a few who do, and they are listening closely, but not obviously. Background music gigs are weird, because there is something in the environment that tells people they shouldn’t really be listening, so it feels uncomfortable to listen obviously, because the venue is supposed to be about conversation. But some do anyway.
I found it interesting that those who listened most obviously were usually under the age of 4. They sit with their parents, faces open, staring and listening as intently as a satellite dish. Others come and stand directly in front of me, their faces wide with the intensity of their listening. One little girl was sitting with her parents, wanted to come forward, but could not decide. Her mother said something to her that absolutely made every moment I was there worth it, not that I didn’t already think that, because in my mind, it’s always worth it to play.
“Do you want to go closer to the guitar player?” the mother asked. I wasn’t just playing guitar, I was singing, and for years the quality of my voice has been a point of anxiety and pain, warranted or not. But this is not what the woman commented on. She called me a guitar player. Over and over I have told people, “I am not a guitar player, I’m a cellist.” I said this because I was insecure, and wanted to head off any comment on my guitar skills. I also call myself a “trained monkey” because I do not in fact know the names of many of the chords I have taught myself to play (I forget their names almost immediately after memorizing them) and still don’t really have an accurate or exhaustive knowledge of where the notes are on the guitar. I do not, therefore, consider myself a guitarist though I play my songs on guitar very well now.
But I came off to this mother, at least enough to discuss it with a toddler, as a guitar player. I heard her, even though I was playing and singing, and was so, so happy.
Finally. I realized in that moment that I had reached a milestone on my journey as a musician, specifically as a singer-songwriter. I can play guitar now, and do not feel embarrassed or inadequate about my guitar skills when I play out. I don’t even think about it much, which two years ago would have been unimaginable for me. This is huge and wonderful.
So now I realize it is time for another step – another goal. I will be working towards that goal this year, in the hope that by Christmas of next year, I will have something in my hand that says I achieved it. In the meantime, hold me in your thoughts, please, as I seek to climb the next mountain.