When I was twelve years old, I got an electric guitar. It took a while, but I finally managed to learn a few simple position chords: A, D, and E Major. At that point, I found a bass player who could also play an A, a D, and an E. And together, we chose a drummer based on one criterion: he actually owned a complete drum kit.
We learned songs that had the three above-mentioned chords. In an effort to expand our musical horizons, we actually wrote some songs. One went A, D, E. I think one of the others went A, E, D.
There are plenty of bands who have made a good living with only three chords - ZZ Top, The Ramones, AC/DC, to name just a few. Alas, that was not the fate of “Hydraulic Apple.” Most likely it was because we were awful. And awfully loud. Not one of us could sing, especially the lead singer.
Looking back on our first gig (A junior high dance - we made $20, enough to cover the cost of the rented PA system), I would guess that, in terms of musicality, we were the rough equivalent of emptying the silverware drawer onto the kitchen floor. My parents were not particularly religious, but I swear I caught them praying for this to stop.
Fast-forward a few decades, and I’m still playing with twelve-year-olds. Big difference this time, though. The student musicians at SVS (of all ages) are passionate, energized, and....accomplished! Uninitiated visitors to the campus can be forgiven if they conclude that SVS is a music school. At almost any time, on any day, there is music. All kinds of music, played by students of all ages on a variety of instruments, and they have one thing in common. They can play! Really well. Certainly, the guitar players at this school run circles around me. They passed the “A ,D, E” stage about five minutes after they got their instruments.
If you happen to wander into the barn at the right time, you might be fortunate enough to hear Ian aggressively playing acoustic guitar, almost attacking it, composing extemporaneously, machine-gunning lyrics that seem to flow effortlessly from the deep well of his talent. You might hear brothers Jake and Jan, honing their already considerable skills on guitar, bass, and drums. The first time I heard Jake and Jan was during their visiting week. I felt compelled to interrupt them to inform them that they “must enroll!” Thankfully, they complied. If you hear tunes you have never heard before while near the piano room, it is most likely Pascal or Sam, improvising. (Why aren’t they recording this?!)
Last year’s Winter Show and Coffeehouse showcased the wide variety of talent at SVS, including some truly exciting vocalists. Nia rocking out with a cover of “99 Red Ballons.” Nell doing a moving interpretation of Nina Simone’s “Plain Gold Ring.” Cami fronting a hard-rock band, singing in Japanese! The Flood sisters nailing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Isabel, Asyah, Robbie, Gibby, Sam, Ian, Ellen - so many talented vocalists. An SVS choir would be killer.
Not long ago, I was in a meeting in the red couch room. I think it was a music corp. meeting. I was losing my concentration, but not for the usual reasons (too long, not enough sleep, hungry). My brain was being seduced by beautiful music emanating from the piano room. I eventually tuned out of the meeting. I had no choice. Soon, my ears instructed my legs to get up and peek into the piano room.
Language is a miserably inadequate tool to describe music. All I can tell you is that I had to see who was making this mesmerizing sound. I peeked through the window. It was Nell, in her piano lesson with Sharon. I later asked Sharon the name of the piece they were playing. As it turns out, they were improvising! How I wish I had stashed my tiny Zoom recorder in that room before they started. The music moved me, in more ways than one!
Needless to say, any time a student asks me to jam, how can I refuse? I consider it an honor to play with these accomplished, passionate musicians. I even learn a lick or two. And sometimes they'll play a nice, simple A, D, E, so I won’t get lost.