I have performed in over 200 concerts in my life. I’ve performed with musical legends and I’ve played in some of the most beautiful performance venues you can imagine. I’ve sung in some of the oldest churches in England and played in some of the oldest churches in Ireland. I’m playing in Carnegie Hall in two weeks.
But today I played my most important performance, ever. Today I played a performance for my Uncle Glenn, one of the most important people in my life.
My Uncle Glenn was the world’s best musician. It’s a fact. You’ve probably never heard his name. You probably never saw him perform. But he made thousands of people happy in his lifetime. All he needed was a half-in-tune guitar and he was ready to go.
Uncle Glenn’s fingers had perpetual grooves in them from the guitar. His hands spoke the years and years of playing guitar in honky tonks and VFWs and Elk’s Lodges. His voice spoke of the decades of bar smoke he inhaled and the country songs he crooned. And his smile spoke of the love and the passion he had for music every single day.
When I was in the second grade, I asked my parents for piano lessons. And crazily, they agreed. I fell in love with it immediately. I wanted nothing more than to play piano for hours. And any time my Uncle Glenn came over, he asked me to play for him. He didn’t care if I was playing Mary Had a Little Lamb or Für Elise, he wanted to hear what I was working on. And when I was done, he always smiled as brightly as if I had just given a standing-room-only recital at Carnegie Hall.
He was my biggest fan.
As the years progressed, Uncle Glenn never stopped supporting me. He always wanted to know where my music was taking me. He always encouraged me to keep pursuing it. He loved it so strongly and believed in me so fiercely that I felt invulnerable. Nothing would stop me. Nothing could ever stop me.
Christmases and Thanksgivings were filled with rounds of our favorite songs. Uncle Glenn would strum his old guitar and we’d sing choruses of “Buffalo Gals,” “Down By the Bay,” or, my personal favorite “Here, Rattler.” In seventy-seven years, I will hear his barking imitations as clearly as if he were barking right now.
One time, in fact, Uncle Glenn was in the hospital for open heart surgery. When he was recovering, we all joined in a chorus of “Here, Rattler.” Uncle Glenn got so worked up barking and howling that we were all kicked out of his hospital room. And it was worth it.
Nothing shines as brightly as Uncle Glenn’s eyes when he heard music. He listened to every song as if it’s the first time he’s ever heard it. Sometimes I could see him itching to play his guitar and sing along with the radio. The desire was palpable. It was real and overwhelming.
When my grandmother was a girl, she and her sister and their friend had a singing group. They were like their own versions of the The Andrews Sisters. My grandmother loved to sing. But my Uncle Glenn was really the first musician in our family. He learned to play guitar so long ago that it seems he was born playing. He brought us music and singing for as long as I can remember. He was always playing with some group at a bar or a festival or an event. And my family was there every chance we got. (My parents were not dragging us through bars on the reg, don’t call CPS on them.)
And when he wasn’t performing, he was teaching others to love music the way he did. He encouraged me through all of school. He encouraged my brother through all of school. He taught us guitar and the value of playing by ear, and all the knowledge that self-taught musicians gain that a classically trained musician like me doesn’t often have the opportunity to learn. He taught me to put my heart into it and that somebody out there is listening, so make every performance wonderful for them.
He taught me the value of practicing. He taught me the value of loving what I do and doing what I love, even if it’s hard. Even if it seems impossible. Even if it seems illogical.
My Uncle Glenn took my Aunt Karen under his wing and taught her how to excel in music. Together they cut a gospel album that they recorded and produced themselves. It could stand on its own against any Nashville studio.
And today, Aunt Karen sang while I played for Uncle Glenn. And it was exactly the way things were supposed to be.
If you can’t tell, I idolized my Uncle Glenn. Whenever I had good news, he was one of the first people I wanted to tell, especially if it was music-related. When I was offered a full scholarship to university for music, he celebrated with me as if I was his own son. I have two brothers whom Uncle Glenn idolized equally. He loved us for different and equal reasons. He was active in our lives. He was involved and attended every event he possibly could.
My Uncle Glenn was amazing and I’m going to miss him. But his legacy will continue. His love of music will be passed down through my family for generations and generations. And when I play in Carnegie Hall, it will be because of him. And when I teach my students every day, it will be because of him. His legacy and love of music will continue for as long as my family line does. And that is the most beautiful requiem I, or anybody, can sing for him.
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.
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