A Bala Cynwyd Guitarist Reflects on his Most Important Music Lesson

Writer Alan Schwartz proves that you’re never too old for the School of Rock.



 

It was at a preschool birthday party that the four of us first started talking about music. Amid the rabble-rousing, gym mats and generic pizza, we shared our love for the Beatles, ’80s college rock and “good” jazz. It was enough for us to consider getting together, and we crowded into my basement to muddle through covers of the Fab Four’s “Glass Onion,” R.E.M.’s “Driver 8” and other songs from our respective musical pasts.

Never mind that all of us played guitar and that none of us was the cultured voice of our generation (or even the neighborhood, for that matter). Well accomplished in the fields of investing, marketing and psychology, we nonetheless reverted to our insecure teenage selves.

“Am I good enough?”

“Is this going anywhere?”

And while those first few gatherings were fraught with anxiety, a spark was lit. We tried to get together every other week. Due to the constraints of work and fatherhood, we played late into the night and even early into the following morning.

Eventually, we began writing songs of our own—and that’s where pretense is laid bare. After all, how many “brilliant” ideas have we all had that are ultimately revealed as folly? Writing music is the perfect place for meritocracy—the best ideas succeed, regardless of who or where they came from.

All those months of us playing together have quickly turned into years. That early tune we wrote in response to a contentious time during the Obama years now sounds almost childlike in comparison to the current political climate. We now have an album’s worth of original songs that aren’t perfect but are lovely enough to our ears, honed with input from our toughest critics: our school-age kids.

Aside from the creative interplay, the greatest gift of this group has been the friendships. We debate the absurdities of politics. We bemoan the death of customer service. We laugh like fools.

In my wife’s daily efforts to motivate our kids to practice their own musical instruments, she points to me and all the fun I’ve had playing with my pals. And isn’t that the most important music lesson?

Alan Schwartz lives in Bala Cynwyd with his wife (clarinet) and two daughters (tuba, ukulele). By day, he’s a psychologist and on the behavioral science faculty in the Family Medicine Residency Program at Christiana Care in Wilmington, Del. By night, he plays in the Archie Ripley Band.      

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