Reveling in the joy that I experienced playing trumpet and learning to read and write music at such a young age was not a difficult task.
Well, one good reason is that nearly every Tuesday night, a varied group of Dad's musical friends gathered in our living room to jam. Tommy Amic (he was a regular) played an 'electric squeezebox' and another friend played guitar and there was always a bass player. The air was filled with music. Tuesdays at the Bählers' had long since become a neighborhood affair and I was nascent in my understanding of the satisfaction that music can bring.
One particular evening, however, my awareness of the pleasure and power of music took a giant step. On this night, already more excited than usual because Dad had consented to let me sit next to him while he played his trumpet, I was eager and proud that I was far enough along to read the music right along with him.
As Dad counted off Gershwin's "Lady Be Good," my adrenaline soared with anticipation. As that classic song took wing, there I was, reading the same notes as Dad and keeping right up with him! It was a thrilling moment. I even caught myself looking up at Dad with a broad smile on my face, hoping that he had noticed too, and Dad looking back, winking his approval. The first moment of its kind for me. A proud moment indeed.
Then something happened that I did not understand and suddenly I was filled with confusion.
Dad had finished playing the notes "Lady Be Good,, and suddenly, without pause, he began playing notes and phrases that weren't on the paper while the other fellas kept playing right along! Immediately I shot a look up at Dad, then back down to the music then back up at him, but his eyes were closed as he played away blissfully. I did love what I was hearing and while it faintly reminded me of Gershwin's melody, it was more free flowing and Dad's dynamics were more exaggerated and he played more notes at some points and less at others. Then, after he had finished playing, the guitar player began to play in a similar manner and his eyes were closed too!
With his trumpet now resting on his lap, Dad happened to look my way and, noticing his son drowning in confusion, flashed an understanding smile. Slowly holding up his index finger to his lips, he whispered, I'll explain later."
The evening went on for what seemed like an eternity, many more songs with more variations played with closed eyes. Now and then one of the men would say something like, "Yeah, man" or "Play it man." I may have heard these things before, but had always thought it was part of what was written. My 6-year-old mind was beyond baffled.
Finally, as Dad bade our last guest goodnight and closed the front door, I swiftly ran up to him with the question. "Dad, what music were you playing after you played what was on the paper? I didn't see those notes anywhere!
Dad's eyes brimmed with joy, a look I was to enjoy throughout our life together, especially when he recognized that I had just discovered something new.
"Oh, Son. After I played what was on the paper, I played a solo chorus."
"What's... a... solo ...chorus?"
"I was improvising."
"What is that?"
And then Dad said the words that would shape my life from that moment forward.
"That's when you let the music take you."
A new light went on.
"Is that creative?"
"Why, yes, Son, I suppose it is. Come on, it's late and passed your bedtime."
That conversation remained a companion to my thoughts for weeks to come. Then one day, when the opportunity arose, I couldn't wait to ask him.
"Dad, how do you be creative?"
Instantly I had his full attention. It was as if he had been waiting for me to ask this question. His eyes gleamed as he replied joyfully, "I'll tell you how I do it."
I loved this about Dad. I don't remember him ever saying, "This is the way." In fact, what I do remember him saying was this:
"If someone says, 'This is the way,' run the other way."
My thoughts returned to the present moment just in time to hear Dad say,
"I declare what I want and let it go."
I'm 6. "Huh?"
Dad uttered a sweet, appreciative laugh. He loved to watch my fertile little mind in exploration mode.
"Well, Son, when we declare what we want, we send energy out there and if what we ask for serves others, we get it.
"That's been my experience."
"Well, how will I know when it comes?"
Dad looked me straight in the eyes with delightful intensity.
"Great question, Son!" He spoke more deliberately now. "After you declare what you want, you must be vigilant, for when it comes to you, you may not recognize it at first, because if you did, it wouldn't be new."
Even at 6, this made sense to me and I nodded slightly as I asked,
"But how will I know if its good or bad?
"Oh, Son, you know how you feel when you see something you don't like coming toward you."
"Yeah, I guess. I hate june bugs."
"Exactly. Well, if what comes to you doesn't feel good, you simply excuse it. On the other hand, you also know the feeling of something you have yet to experience, and still it feels as though it is good, don't you?"
"Oh, yeah, Dad! I felt that way the first time I saw the Good Humor man drive up our street."
"See! You do know. So, when an idea comes to you that you may not understand, but feels good, you invite it in as if you are the host and it is the guest."
This was beginning to make sense to me, although if you had asked me at that moment, I would have replied with a blank stare.
Dad was on a roll. "For instance, when your friend Kent comes over to visit, more often than not, I notice you ask him if he would like an apple or a glass of water. Those are the actions of a good host. Act the same with new ideas. Be a good host."
Dad could see that this was catching on with me and as he went on, his manner became just this side of gleeful.
"And you know what? If that idea is supposed to stay, it will become a part of you. And, if for some reason it isn't meant to stay, it will leave happily and go tell other ideas that it has found a good host."
All of this made so much sense, even to my young mind, that I found myself smiling adoringly up at my dad, as if he had just added a room on to the house of my understanding.
I was probably still staring up at him, drinking in his love and wisdom when he said, "Go get your brother and let's play catch."