photo by Cassandra Mohr
When I was a kid, my dad played guitar.
He had a gorgeous, shiny twelve-string: a dazzling instrument that made such beautiful music. We would go on ski trips with a few other families,
and in the evenings we'd sit around the fire and the grown-ups would jam.
Folk music was big at the time, and John Denver and Neil Diamond were popular names. I grew up admiring someone who could play a guitar and sing. With his instrument, he could take you places,
and with his voice, he could speak to your heart.
If he did it right, you'd remember it for a long time.
I was very young, but I figured when I was big enough to hold one,
I'd learn to play guitar as well.
I may have mentioned this before, but as a child I was, shall we say, active. Yes, I was "that kid" - the one whom other mothers looked at and realized how good their kids were.
What I didn't know then (and what I'm certain of now) was that my parents had already done the math and realized that sitting me down and trying to teach me how to play such an easily breakable instrument,
would be frustrating...and probably rather costly.
Years later, I found myself growing up in a Boy Scout troop; my dad was the Scoutmaster, and I spent a lot of time outdoors. In a short time I discovered the bugle: a loud brass horn that was relatively easy to figure out and had no moving parts. Every troop needs a bugle.
There's only so much you can do with a bugle, though, and you can't sing while playing it. Even so, I loved that bugle because not only was it noisy, but it was also great fun to wake people up with early in the morning. I would often blow the bugle right next to a bunch of tents, and then run like heck.
Again, "active child".
Considering my bugle exploits, I'm probably lucky to be alive.
In high school, with zero experience, I somehow got recruited to play trombone one year in the marching band; they had two guys and needed a third. Using my rudimentary bugle skills, and relying heavily on watching the other trombone players, I used the "fake-it-till-you-make-it" approach and, with no formal music training, I managed to get by without making too big a fool of myself. The trombone wasn't "my instrument" - it was fun to play,
but again, you can't sing while playing a horn, and, like the bugle,
it can take people places; if played wrong, though, it can send them running (either away from you or towards you).
Music has always played an important part in my life. I've always loved singing. In high school and college I did a fair amount of theatre, and when I stepped onto the back of a gondola for the first time, I recognized it as a great place to continue the music - trading my show-tunes for opera and jazz standards. I got pretty comfortable singing with no accompaniment.
All the while I thought about an instrument - thought about a guitar,
or a ukulele maybe.
I wanted to do what I'd admired so much as a kid, and then one night,
while serenading my passengers under the stars,
I realized that the gondola is my instrument.
Oh sure, she doesn't make music like a guitar or a cello, but she will literally take you places. I can get a couple on my gondola, row out on the water, and help them escape their problems for a time. Then, with the gentle waves lapping against the side of her hull, I can point the boat towards the setting sun or a rising moon, and if I sing just the right song, in just the right way,
I can speak to their hearts and maybe even provide them with a memory that they will cherish forever.
I am a gondolier, and the gondola is my instrument.