As soon as I could write, it seems I was already writing poetry and stories. I would write little poems as Christmas gifts for my six siblings as well as for mom and dad. In elementary school, I’d come home to find my older brother Peter practicing the piano – playing classical pieces by Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Schubert, Rachmaninoff etc. These times were like meditations for me and I would sit there sometimes for hours before and after dinner and listen. The beautifully haunting quality of these classical pieces seeped into my soul forever.
At the age of about 10 my father said that I should study a musical instrument. Although he was a great musician and played in polka bands, dad told me that he could not read music and that that was one of the regrets in his life. Somehow I decided to try the trumpet though the reasons why are rather murky. I guess my second oldest brother Joe played the trumpet and it seemed easier than the piano. However, my trumpet teacher turned out to be one of the most unhealthy and uninspiring people imaginable. So I quit.
My father did not give up, however. He soon bought me a drum kit. I guess most kids have to beg their parents for a drum kit, but in my case, it was my dad’s idea. He set it up for me and taught me how to hold the drumsticks and how to play the base with my foot at the same time as using the sticks. For the next 5 years, my father taught me every song he knew – from ragtime tunes to polkas and from the big bands to Elvis. Dad would play the songs on piano or accordion and he would sing them all by heart. For each song, he would teach me the melody and explain the feeling of the song and what kind of drum rhythm it should have. If I messed up he would stop abruptly and correct me. I could never forget these songs as there etched on my “inner ears”
Around the age of 15, my dad showed me how to play the banjo and the guitar. He had an old tenor banjo (which I still have!), which is a banjo with only 4 strings. No sooner had I learned 2- 3 chords I began composing little songs. I started listening to popular songwriters like the Beatles, Cat Stevens, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan. I quickly realized I needed to have a guitar. So I saved up from my salary at Joe’s Market and went and bought my first guitar. It was a Yamaha and I was so excited I could hardly sleep. I also bought some songbooks and starting learning different songs and chords. I also started writing songs with the guitar. Among my very first songs was a song about Abraham Lincoln and a tune that would later become Maggie Millie Molly and May (after I borrowed lyrics from E.E. Cummings years later.)
I have never formally studied guitar or music at all. However, I learned from many musicians along the way that I have played with. Also because I could not really read music, I had to learn all the songs by ear and so eventually I could pretty much play the chords of any song that I listened to. In college started to make simple cassette recordings of my songs. I continued to write songs when I lived in Europe and then during graduate school in North Carolina. When I founded the Oneness-Family School in 1988, music took a back seat for quite a few years because I was so busy. However, I always kept a guitar around and I continued to write poems and stories even if I was not playing music that much.
These many years later, I have recorded 6 CD’s and many other individual songs along the way in a variety of settings. Music and songwriting continue to be an amazingly fulfilling adventure for me. I have learned that each song has a soul of its own, and I feel like I just sort of usher them into this world and give them wings.