I don’t usually watch the Grammys. I just wait for the next day to see who won what, who snubbed who onstage, and who had the most outrageous wardrobe malfunction. But this year, I heard that Paul McCartney was performing, and I knew I had to watch. Some may wonder why, since Sir Paul is not really the music of my generation. I should have been more compelled by the Whitney tributes. But I wasn’t. As I watched the Grammys, it became clear to me how much of a product of my musical upbringing I was. I knew every word of that Abbey Road medley, and wasn’t afraid to sing it out. And I was delighted by the collaboration of legendary guitarists that followed. All of it got me thinking about my musical roots.
My mom’s dad was known for his songs. He was always singing, and got us to sing, too. We joined in with gusto, asking, “Who’s gonna fix that whistle?” We wondered what was inside that mysterious box when we belted out, “I discovered a boom boom boom, right before my eyes!” And we “mm-hmmm”ed with Miss Mousie as she was courted by ‘ol Froggie. Grandpa’s songs were sung when we were together, and when we were apart. His songs were sung in the car, in the bathtub, and as we snuggled down to sleep at night. And I will never forget, not too long ago, watching my mom sing those very songs back to him when he couldn’t sing them anymore. He was known for and is still loved and remembered for his songs.
So we grew up singing. Our repertoire expanded to include my mom’s most beloved musicals. We marched along with Harold Hill and his 76 trombones, we danced the night away with Eliza Doolittle, and we bid each other, “Adeiu,” as we said So Long, Farewell, with the Von Trapps. As we got older, we added our own favorites. My older sister and I would spend hours trying to perfect the harmonies from the Les Miserables soundtrack. I can’t help but think of her every time I hear “Castle on a Cloud.” (We never did get that one quite right, did we Jen?) With my younger siblings, we would push in a taped-off-of-TV copy of The Newsies, and sing longingly with Christian Bale about Santa Fe. “Dreams come true, yes they do, in Santa Feeeeeeeee!” (Yes, The Newsies. Totally panned by every critic, but a steadfast favorite in our house.)
And in the backdrop of all of this, there was my dad and his guitar.
Some of my earliest memories are of him sitting in the hallway, playing songs like, “The Girl from Ipanema,” for us until we went to sleep. As we got older, he would take out his Beatles playbooks and pluck the strings, while teaching us different singing parts. I can sing the “do do do do dos” in “Girl,” from the album Rubber Soul, like nobody’s business. He would play weddings too, and I would bet that any member of my family can recite the lyrics to “Annie’s Song,” or “The Wedding Song (There is Love),” in a blink. As he got more into classical guitar, the notes of, “Moonlight Sonata,” and “Recuerdos de la Alhambra,” would float out from behind his office door. It wasn’t until I got to college that I finally realized that not everyone grew up with classical guitar as the soundtrack of their life. It’s sad, but I didn’t know how beautiful and unique it was, until I left.
Now that I am a parent, it is such a joy to see my kids getting to benefit from the gift of my dad and his guitar. Whenever they hear guitar music, they ask, “Is that Grandpa?” To them, guitar and Grandpa are synonymous. And because my dad has since become a Suzuki-trained guitar instructor, they even get to learn how to play.
One of the best things about watching Paul McCartney on the Grammys this year was that I got to watch it at my parents’ house. While my Dad and I marveled at the musical genius of, “The End,” my Mom tucked the kids into bed with a verse or two of, “The Five O’Clock Whistle.” My musical roots have become my kids’ musical roots. And as I sit here now, listening to Josh pluck his guitar strings while Lily belts out, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” I can be sure that they are mine.
And now, for my contribution to their musical upbringing, I go in search of that copy of The Newsies…
What about you? What are your musical roots?