Hope for Buster and J: Grammy Winner bypasses Music Stores

When my sons were little, we would ask them what they wanted to be when they grew up and they’d say, “a daddy” or “a firefighter” or “an army guy” or (alarmingly) “a writer.”

Then one day, one of them, the quiet dreamer – the thoughtful brainiac with terrifyingly high test scores and so many interests that he can’t seem to settle on one – comes to you at age 14 says, “I’m thinking of studying bio-medical engineering…maybe at MIT” and you think…wow…kid’s got some direction. He’ll have a job that makes a difference in the world. Great!

Then…at age 15 he picks up a guitar…and the whole world changes. And he plays the thing for 6 hours a day and makes staggering progress over a single summer, playing until his fingers are raw. You get up to get a glass of water at 4 in the morning, and you hear strains of Nirvana…and then Clapton, coming from the bedroom down the hall. His hair grows. A beard comes out of nowhere. “Music,” he announces, with all the severity of the young, “is like religion. It is infinite and infinitely challenging. You can never get to the end of it, and it will always humble you, because whatever you take for granted eventually trips you up. Music and wimmin are the only two things that come close to touching God.”

And you think, Oh…dear Lord…

And then he takes a couple of theory classes and discovers that the joys of mathematical precision also reside between the lines and spaces, notes and rests of composed music. He develops a musical vocabulary that eclipses your own, and you can sense the idea of MIT slowly beginning to recede. It all comes to a head one night, as he walks into the kitchen and shoves a sheaf of papers into your face. It’s a string quartet. Your baby has written a string quartet! And MIT goes away…far, far away…and music conservatories are suddenly sending information and inviting him down for interviews and auditions.

And you want your child to do the thing he loves, and you know that the thing one loves, the thing that one does with passion and intensity is usually the thing one is meant to do…so you say, “okay…but if you’re going to study music, you have to have a plan B.”

And your child says: “Plan B, gotcha. I’ll minor in creative writing…”

When you’re done choking on your tea, you reply, as kindly as you can, “ummm, no…you see, plan B has to be something that can earn you a living wage…”

And your child says: “Living wage, gotcha. I’ll minor in recording arts and sciences…”

And you can feel your body relax all the way down to your bellybutton. That’s at least a better plan B than writing. You allow your son to go to conservatory and major in music, and pray that, with a plan B in place, he won’t have to live with you until he is 30.

Then your other son – the joyful, gregarious, idealistic and randy one – the ambitous one who has his first job at age 13 – the orally fixated kid who never, never stops talking except to blow a horn or a harmonica, or to croon into a microphone, comes up to you wearing his fedora and his sunglasses and his very cool zoot suit and black and white shoes, carrying his saxophone and flashing a brilliant smile…and he says, “remember when I said I wanted to be a firefighter? Well, you know, my teacher says he thinks I can get a scholarship for my horn…and there is this really good jazz school…and the ladies love a musician…and um…for a plan B, I’ll study political science. Or broadcasting.

And you sigh and think…Oh, dear Lord.

With two musician sons, one or both of whom may be choosing to make his living in the recording industry, I thought this was a very interesting and hopeful story.

Jazz composer Maria Schneider took home a Grammy on Sunday for her album “Concert in the Garden,” without selling a single copy in a record store.

Schneider, 44, financed her Grammy-winning album through a Internet-based music delivery service called ArtistShare that opens the financing of production to dedicated fans.

Schneider said she believed she might be the first artist ever to win a Grammy for an album distributed solely on the Web. But she said that other musicians had already approached her about trying similar experiments of their own.

It is a new world. Every new avenue for exposure and success makes me hopeful that I won’t have to extend the back of the house and add bedrooms and nurseries. :-)

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