I may have been ten I am not sure. My brother was perhaps fifteen or sixteen. I often went along with him to his guitar lesson. We lived in the “burbs “so a trip into town was very exciting especially for me. But more importantly the trip into town was an experience, a life lesson.
Escorting my brother to his guitar lesson enabled me to see him at his best, and at his most vulnerable. It gave me an opportunity to witness the artist and the master, the teacher and student together. For my brother there was nothing else to life except the guitar.
Walking up the dark narrow stairway of an old Notre Dame de Grace apartment building I follow my brother in silence. The dark oak wood engulfs us. He is holding on tightly to his black guitar case. The creaks and squeaks of the wood as our feet fall make a kind of music of its own. We don’t talk. This is serious business.
Music consumed him, as very young child music was engrained like the dark stain of that old oak staircase; music was the color of my brother’s soul. I remember him telling me when I was very young while playing his own hand made guitar that our parents were going to buy him a real one. I recall the joy in his eyes and a broad smile made its way across his face almost making his freckles dance. That was when he told me his secret; he was going to be a musician.
He started taking lessons and became extremely disciplined at his art. Practicing hour after hour. His guitar placed upon his knee as though it were a child or a lover.
He played the notes and they flowed, the scales repeated over and over again. His hands delicately, consistently working their way up and down the neck of his guitar, like it were the neck of the most beautiful woman in the world.
He studied classical. His obsession was jazz. His idols were the likes of George Benson, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. These were men he admired. Men to be reckoned with.
We are at the top of the stairs now. The doors open and we enter the inner sanctum. The master’s domain. My brother is young. His face is hairless, a creamy, milky complexion outlined by thick long black hair pulled back behind his ears. We sit and wait. He looks anxious. It is a dark room we are waiting in. The windows have no curtains. The view is less than appealing; another building is all you can see. The room feels joyless, colorless. It is bare and empty except for a few chairs. In that moment I decide that music is a very serious business indeed.
Coming home one night from a gig my brother was hit by a motorcycle on Sherbrooke Street. He and his girlfriend were getting ready to cross the street when a guy on a bike came out of nowhere and knocked my brother to the ground. The accident resulted in the loss of the use of his right hand for some time. We all hoped and prayed that he would make a full recovery and have full use of his hand again. For him not to be able to play the guitar would have been a loss to great for him to deal with. Over time he made a complete recovery.
His teacher calls him into the room down the hall. Picking up his guitar he quietly walks down a dimly lit hallway to the music room. I am left to wait. As I get up to look out the window I get a glimpse of my brother and his teacher for a moment. My brother looks up from his guitar and our eyes meet. What do I see? I feel as though I am a voyeur. I feel as though I have just witnessed something sacred, the master and his pupil at work. I feel as though I do not have the right or the privilege to witness the secrets of the inner sanctum. It is a world all too difficult and complicated for me to understand. Yet this look on his face is familiar. I have seen it before; no doubt will see it again. Perhaps it is the look of an artist willing to sacrifice anything for perfection. It is the look of a young man giving up his self in the pursuit of a craft. The door is shut and I am left to my own thoughts down the hall. The music lesson is an hour. I wait and wonder what it would be like to have such talent, to follow one’s bliss.
Today my brother struggles to pay his rent and buy his groceries. Working clubs and studios is behind him. He wants to write, to compose and create. To produce music that has filled his heart and soul for decades. His gifts are abundant. His hair is grayish now; streaks of it like snow on his head. His face has lost its creamy complexion to stubble and a moustache. Music is still the color of his soul.
The guitar lesson is over and we descend the dark oak staircase. My brother is calmer. His guitar is a part of him now, like a companion it follows him everywhere. I rarely see him without it. They are inseparable. “How was the lesson?” I ask him. “Fine.” He replies.
Guitar And Case – Public Domain
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