Passion and Intensity

Our Little Jam Session

I know that the above headline could apply to so many things, but it’s not salacious nor prurient.

It is a description that my middle daughter either didn’t believe or didn’t want to believe about herself.

About a year ago Hannah, the boys and I (Abbi had a report she was working on and a test she had to study for) attended a picnic and jam session at a family friend’s house.  The day was one filled with food, music and just having a good time with each other.  Doesn’t matter the caliber of musician or writer or speaker or animator or filmmaker or what have you, a good artist learns from even the worst ones.  Nobody was bad here, but we all wanted to play together and have some fun.

At this particular event Hannah got up with her friends and played guitar while they tried to push through a blues riff and just jammed for quite awhile.  She wasn’t doing any Eric Clapton solos and didn’t have any aspirations to do so on the deck of our friends’ house.  However, once she started, she hadn’t noticed that the instructor and head of the music department of our school had arrived.  While many of you might shrug and wonder why this would even eek onto your radar you should know who the head of our department is.

The man who we were lucky enough to get at our school has a pedigree that spans probably every album you might have listened to from the ’80s, possibly even the late ’70s on.  He played on Madonna’s Like a Virgin.  He told stories that day of this gangly, strange looking Texan walking into the studio while he was recording with David Bowie who ordered BBQ from Austin, TX, and played blistering guitar they’d never heard before . . . a guy named Stevie Ray Vaughan on the album Let’s Dance.  He never talks much about them and I have a feeling it was a work and a passion of his and to work with this group of musicians was no different than, say, his passion for anything else.  It was second nature.  He doesn’t brag or puff his chest out when he talks about these events in his life.  One minute he’s talking playing basketball outside Bowie’s studio and the next he’s reminded of a recipe for New York cheesecake.  That’s who walked into our little party.

So Hannah doesn’t quite understand why, after just one afternoon of playing in his presence her teacher wants to put her into his band that plays at events and school masses.
“I don’t play that well,” she says.
“It’s now how much you know, Hannah, it’s that you have passion and intensity,” he tells her.

Still, she’s skeptical.

Fast forward to yesterday . . . and she’s still confuzzled as to why this man wants her in the band.
“You really think I can do this, Dad?”
“I wouldn’t have put you in there if I didn’t,” was my somewhat puzzled reply.
“I don’t really have intensity, Dad, but Mr. Sabino keeps telling me I do!”
“Because he’s right, Hannah.”

And he is . . . I see in Hannah the sparks I had when the guitar started to make sense to me.  This wasn’t my wanting to get on stage and meet girls, it was more.  I loved that when I couldn’t express myself to others I could do it with even a few notes on the guitar.  I could play for hours (and did) and not grow tired of it.  Never.  Still that way.  Hannah wakes up, has breakfast, gets her school materials together and then picks up her Strat and plays.

I said the same thing to her older sister, Abbi.  She tried out for the school’s biggest musical.  She called me today, sounding much like her mother, and in a panic told me she’d completely messed up.  She’d been told the wrong way to come back into the verse of a song by a girl who she didn’t know wanted the same part Abbi’d gotten a call-back for.  I don’t know if this girl did it intentionally or just didn’t have a clue – both are dangerous – but Abbi made it sound like she’d folded and fallen into a fetal position on the floor.

But when I asked if she’d started well, the answer was “yes.”  I asked if she’d gone off-key?  “no.”  Did she stop and just fall apart?  “no.”

But the girl who told her the wrong way got it perfectly right and sang beautifully, she says, and she got called back for 3 parts and Abbi got called for 1.

This is where Dad has to be MomandDad.  Not Dad.  Dad’s gut says go to the school, find the teacher and lobby, find the other girl and hit her in the shins like Nancy Kerrigan and then throw back my head like the Hulk because after all she’s my little girl and I’d do anything to help her and protect her and even if I’m wrong I’m right and the ends justify the means.
But a run-on-sentence like that is only for Dads.  Not Moms.  We don’t have Mom, so I have to act like I understand.  I have . . . to . . . listen.  That’s hard for a guy.  It is.  When women get angry and frustrated and wonder why we can’t just listen and give a hug and comfort it’s because – and this is important – we care.  We care enough that it bothers us and the way we get around that is by fixing the problem.

The hardest thing in the world for a Dad – particularly one who has to be Dad and Mom – is to not try to fix everything.  Sometimes I have to let them fall or experience the bad.  Sometimes it’s OK to see that not everyone can be trusted or is as nice as you are.  That’s hard and it’s painful . . . for me.  All I can do is calm her down and listen to her in tears and be proud when she says she held it together and didn’t cry or scream until she was out of the auditorium.

But the lesson above applies.  She was on-key.  She still acted with passion and intensity.  She lost her track and her tempo but found it back.  She didn’t stop and walk away, she figured it out.  The only advice I could give her falls short in her ears initially, but it’s this: it’s never as bad as you think it is in the moment.  (OK, sometimes it is, but no, not all the time)  The teacher knows her abilities, likes her, understands her passion and intensity.  The other director – a student director – likes Abbi and knows that Abbi was good and saved some of the lines in the understudy version of her play last year.

Abbi…on stage doing what she loves.

It’s hard to know you messed up – and harder still to keep going when you do.  But that’s what passion and intensity give you.  When you mess up, you own the mistake.  You stretch your abilities by doing it.

So at the end of the day I tell Hannah to learn from her sister’s example: to keep going.  It’s easy to take lessons and sit in the same room or at home.  But get in a group, hear the things they can do and how they perform and you push yourself to do more.  You play to your utmost.

When I played with a friend a month or so ago she noted how I didn’t play a flurry of notes constantly.  I had a slow build, that the playing was structured, like I had a path and a way I was going.  It wasn’t speed metal, I didn’t play 1,000 miles per hour from beginning to end of the solo.  My response was one I stole from Eric Clapton: – you don’t have to play 100 notes if you play just one with passion and intensity.

I don’t know if Abbi made the play.  I don’t know if Hannah will play brilliantly.  All I can say is I know what I tell them – do your best and own your moment.  The rest of the time I have to listen and learn not to act, that’s my lesson.  Sometimes a hug is better than a 2×4.

Sometimes it’s best to have passion and intensity.

One thought on “Passion and Intensity”

  1. You are right… it is seldom as bad as it feels in the moment. That’s something we TV types learn early and often!
    I’d say, if the other girl got called back for three parts, maybe they’re not sure where to put her. Whereas, if Abbi got called back for one part, they know her strengths and where she should be. And that’s the better position to be in.
    Love hearing about your kids’ talents.

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