Unless you’re some kind of sociopath, or Donald Trump, you’ve probably had a few regrets in your life. I know I have. Things I’ve said, decisions I’ve made, some things I’ve written, how I treated people at times. And if I had high school to do all over again – shudder – I would attend class a lot more often.
My biggest regret is not having learned to play a musical instrument. I love music, I always have. I grew up with the rock and pop and folk music explosion of the ’60s and ’70s. And I continue to add new songs and new artists to my playlists. Some of the best times of my life have involved sitting and listening to live music in a small club or bar: sipping pints of Guinness during an impromptu Celtic jam session in a pub on the west coast of Ireland; spending a pleasant evening listening to a jazz quartet along San Antonio’s River Walk; joining a community Fado festival in the Alfama district of Lisbon, with ice-cold beer and petiscos; sitting front and centre at a tiny jazz club in New York’s Greenwich Village.
When I watch musicians perform, they seem to take so much pleasure in playing. I know I’m missing out on something.
I grew up in a house filled with music, emanating from the living room stereo. My dad could play a couple of simple songs on the piano – is Chopsticks really a song? – but that was about it. Dad had a tremendous collection of recorded music: ’78s, ’45s, LPs, cassettes, CDs. I didn’t always share his musical tastes – I’ve never been big on country – but he did introduce me to people like Harry Belafonte and Count Basie and Diana Krall.
Dianne and our daughter Danielle are very good piano players, and we have a nice piano at home. To be fair, Danielle only stuck with it because we gave her little choice; I remember bribing her with chocolates when it was time for her earliest lessons. She later learned to play French horn and guitar. Our son Adam took guitar lessons for a time, but he was so busy with sports that we never made him persist.
It’s never too late to learn, you may be thinking. But for me, it’s a psychological hurdle. I’m just not prepared to set out for what I see as a long, hard slog to the point at which I could play even a simple song – and derive some enjoyment from it.
I try to convince myself that it’s like acquiring a new language, and I continue to tinker with learning Spanish. Then, I remind myself, there is a big difference. With language, a few words or phrases can get you started on communicating right away. Ein Bier bitte. Un cafe por favor. And it’s tremendously satisfying when the person you’re speaking to understands what you’ve said. If you happen to be immersed in a foreign-language milieu, on holiday for instance, there’s tremendous incentive, even necessity, to spit out a few phrases – if you want to eat or find a place to sleep. Or simply to be polite. Bom dia. As-salaam ‘alykum.
Learning a new musical instrument is clearly different. Nobody wants to hear scales on the piano, nor even a one-fingered Mary Had a Little Lamb.
All I can think of is how miserably long it would be before I could play a proper song. Reading the notes and the accompanying squiggles in the music book, learning to make my two hands and ten fingers do different things at the same time. Not even bribing me with chocolates could get me to practice every day.
I should tell you that I don’t like all kinds of music, or every song. My friends tease me about my distaste for The Eagles – and play Hotel California every chance they get! Dianne and I once had an apartment above a low-level Elvis impersonator and had to listen to him practice the King’s classics over and over again. Sorry, but my playlist is an Elvis-free zone. Sports stadiums that insist on blasting We Are the Champions, and We Will Rock You every chance they get have ruined Queen for me.
And then there are songs that sound good, but the lyrics are disconcerting: Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, Jimi Hendrix’s Hey Joe, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama.
Come to think of it, maybe I should delete Édith Piaf’s iconic Non, je ne regrette rien from my laptop.