Six-string Challenge

As I have mentioned as an aside a few times in these stories, my father - retired from his life-long work as a professional musician - has taken up a hobby in recent years.


Yes, it seems that perhaps he didn't get quite enough of it during his very long career, which started when he was still in his early teens, because even after he laid aside his instruments and stopped accepting engagements some years back, he hasn't been able to shake it off. But he has done something quite interesting - instead of continuing to perform the same type of music, with the same instruments that he did throughout his career, and thus wrestle with an inevitable decline in ability as he ages, he 'changed horses'. He decided to begin again from scratch, playing an instrument of a completely different type.

Through most of his working life, he specialized in woodwinds. His main instrument was the baritone saxophone, but saxophone players are expected to be what is known as 'doublers' - they must play a number of other instruments as well. Flute and clarinet are the most common double instruments, but he took it farther, and learned to play the oboe and bassoon as well. This made him very useful to employers, and his working career took him into night clubs, concert halls, television studios, and of course recording studios. He's not much of a name-dropper, but if we pushed him to make a list of people he has provided music for, it would include most of the big names in entertainment from the 60s through the 80s.

And there were indeed plenty of big names; for many of those years, top acts would bring their shows to Vancouver first, as a kind of 'out-of-town' warmup before they hit Vegas. The would usually play 'The Cave', where the orchestra had a reputation of being as good as you would find anywhere.

What I would give now to be able to replay some of those opportunities! There I was sitting at home in the evenings, while my father was downtown playing with Tony Bennett! If I had wanted, I could easily have slipped in backstage ...

One joke about the kind of life those musicians led is that - from their positions in the backing orchestra at the rear of the stage, they of course saw most of the singers from the 'back side'. They could tell all those famous female singers apart without needing to see their faces ...

Anyway, as I mentioned, rather than continue playing the baritone saxophone - which he no longer even owns - he has started again, this time with the guitar. And this is a huge difference. All of the instruments that he played as a professional were 'single-note' instruments, either playing melodic lines or at least parts supportive of the melody. The guitar though is a harmonic instrument, like the piano. Now any good melodic player of course has an understanding of harmony, but actually wrapping one's hands around the chord progressions to a piece of music is a different challenge.

And this switch is a kind of 'double punch' - in addition to the intellectual difficulty of understanding the complex harmonies necessary to play jazz guitar, one of course needs a great deal of physical dexterity to actually play the difficult chords.

The upshot is that he has found himself the perfect activity for these retirement years, one that provides excellent stimulus for both mind and body. And because he brings with him an excellent grounding provided by his many years of experience, he isn't floundering around in the way that a raw beginner would. So the idea of taking up one's previous profession as a hobby in retirement - which sounds so insane on first hearing - is perhaps a very good idea after all.

Just how this all applies to me is not clear; according to this pattern I would one day retire from making prints in the rather classical traditional Japanese style, and switch to making modern work. Oops. I've already done that! Am I perhaps already 'retired', without realizing it?


Comments on this story ...

Posted by: Jakub Makalowski

Perhaps then we might see some lithographs in your future? Or some silk screening?

Add Your Comment ...

(you may use HTML tags for style)

Japanese readers can click here to view the story on a page with a link to vocabulary assistance.