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Jess Lahey - Issue #3

Jess Lahey
Jess Lahey
How Do You Do Music?

I promised a part 2 of the “Music to My Ears” post, about Finn’s journey from music hater to musician, so here goes.
TIm and Finn
TIm and Finn
This is Finn, back when he hated music. Note the wary look on his face. He did not like having music on in the house or in the car, and he gritted his teeth when his hero, big brother Ben practiced saxophone (I really could not blame him, it sounded like goose torture). However, whenever Tim or Ben played guitar (and later piano) Finn listened and watched.
When he turned 11, he asked to take guitar lessons.
Practicing (not yet play)
Practicing (not yet play)
His teacher, Ed, was great, but like Ben, Finn cooled on lessons after about a month. As I’d been through this once before, I let him quit. At least this time around, there was no piano to roll downhill.
For the next few years, he was hot and cold on the guitar. He’d pick it up and play, complain about his lack of skills and finger calluses, work to build both back up, then get busy doing other things and forget about the guitar. I loved listening to him play, but I also tried very hard to stay out of his relationship with music.
He started messing around with digital music on the computer at the end of 8th grade, when he was 14 and we moved away from all he knew. Music became his escape and, thanks to internet message boards and Discord, the center of his social life.
He began meeting other people who were also interested in producing digital music and the world opened up to him. He made friends in Australia, Asia, Europe, and all over the U.S.
I wanted to understand his world, to speak the language of what was quickly becoming his first love, and appreciate the work that goes into his music.
Again, internet to the rescue.
We started watching YouTube videos about music theory, starting with Adam Neely’s channel. Adam is a graduate of Berklee School of Music and bassist for the band Sungazer. He comes by teaching honestly as his mother, Cate Frazier-Neely, is also a music educator. Adam has become one of Finn’s favorite teachers and it’s not an exaggeration to say he’s learned more about music theory from Adam than from anyone else, including his high school music theory teacher.
Other YouTube favorites are Polyphonic and Everything Music with Rick Beato, and we watch them together while I cook dinner. You know those videos kids watch of other people playing video games? Well, they have those for digital music production, too. You can watch other people create music in real time, on incredibly complicated software that requires hundreds of hours of study and practice.
Do I like talking about polyrhythm and tri-tones all the time? Nope. Do I understand everything I watch about music production and theory? Absolutely not. Has watching these videos deepened my relationship with my kid? One hundred percent.
Learning about the things Finn cares about most has given me a vocabulary, a lexicon for the words and concepts that describe my child’s world.
He’s been producing music for four full years now and I can see and hear the improvement in his music and mental health. It’s not hyperbole to say that music has kept him alive during this pandemic. When depression hit early on, it’s what pulled him out of that hole. Making something good, something that feeds his soul, that is what has sustained him.
We recently took him to Boston for his birthday to hear one of his favorite musicians, Porter Robinson, something I wrote about a few issues back. We got to share something sacred to him, and that, too has deepened our relationship.
Look, his dad and I are straight-up academic geeks. Tim’s a physician, medical ethicist, and writer. I went to law school and make a living as a researcher, writer, and speaker. Nearly all of his grandparents went to graduate school and worked in what would be considered highly respectable professions. It’s so tempting to encourage Finn to major in something practical in college, like business or STEM or even (gasp) writing.
But every time I am, I’m reminded of a girl I met at a speaking event at a hoity-toity, extremely high pressure school. She was delightful, and everyone kept talking about her enormous talent as an actor, how magical she is on stage, how she lights up from within and brightens the world around her. Indeed, she was glowing as she heard these comments. I turned to her and asked,
“Will you continue acting after high school?”
She looked shocked and aghast, and responded,
“Oh….no. I have to study business,” and as she laid out her parents’ expectations for her, her glow dimmed. As it faded, she morphed into just another kid; sweet and kind, but not particularly memorable.
I’m not saying she should major in drama and move to L.A. or New York City, but I do hope she finds a way to feed what lights her up amid everyone else’s expectations. It may just be what sustains her and fuels all that other stuff.
I wouldn’t be doing my job as a parent if I allowed the thing that burns brightest in Finn to dim in the face of society’s expectations. Yes, we will talk about ways to carve out an economically viable future, but we will also honor and support what’s truest and most magical in him.
It seems appropriate to close out (again) with some Porter Robinson. In his song, “Musician,” (video linked in lyrics below) Porter offers operating instructions for kids like Finn who can’t not make music:
So while I’m over doing my best not to pull a parental freak out, we will keep watching videos together, keep listening for Finn’s growth as a musician, and stay on his side for the rest of his life.*
Finn and Coco in September
Finn and Coco in September
*this line is from Porter Robinson’s song “Mother” about the support he’s received from his mom.
I’m on your side for the rest of your life / You’ll never be alone, don’t you worry, my child / And now there’s an empty room you outgrew / But I’m here for you"
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Jess Lahey
Jess Lahey @jesslahey

I write about all kinds of stuff but if you are into the writing life, the woods of Vermont, life with dogs, or my work in child welfare and substance use prevention, then you are in the right place.

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