Sunday, October 30, 2005

Going Solo/Ego/Expansion

Beth, my partner and wife, has come down with laryngitis. It came upon her near the end of yesterday's Halloween show out in Bayshore, NY. None of our subs were available for today, so we had to punt and do the show in a very Scott-centered way.

The show went fine. Sure, I missed Beth's singing voice and she couldn't do much besides play the tambourine and croak in a sort of Melissa Etheridge way. But I was very pleased that the client, the kids and the parents walked away happy.

It's weird. I'm having some sort of post-show reaction. It's 11:25 p.m. I'm rarely up this late - especially given that we just set the clocks back and it should feel like it's 12:25 a.m. So what's going on with me?

I know that some of this feeling is related to letting go of ego. Lately, I've been trying to put a lid on my need for compliments and reactions to shows, songs and just about anything. As an ongoing experiment, I've been trying to limit my need to react or act based upon what others think and say. So, going solo without getting some sort of big "Hooray, Scott!" is probably a new level of challenge for my tampered ego.

I believe that we develop ego when we're young because we need it. I'm no psychologist, so forgive the digression. My view, though, is that as we grow independant from our parents we create a sense of self that's called Ego. This creature can be very useful during the tough growing years. When peer pressure is at its worst, hopefully we can turn to a sense of self that says, "I'm okay. In fact, I don't need those guys or gals to feel good." Over time, though, this ego grows as we receive compliments, awards, accomplishments, etc. It becomes especially atuned, in fact, to MORE of the same because an ego requires constant feeding, you see. It is at this juncture that I believe the ego is beginning to be more useless than useful.

Artists are not unique in their need for attention, but we certainly crave it more than most. I think that my decision to enter into the performing arts is related to a need to feel the warm glow of applause, the approval that I'm worthwhile, special and talented. Again, my ego got a lot of this as I was growing up and my ego wanted more! So, I found myself performing in college for money, gaining some notoriety on campus as an actor and a singer. It felt great, especially because I was enrolled at a school with a lot of smart people. The stage became my place to shine just as the classroom or the sports field was someone else's place to get some attention.

When I left college, I hit the local bar circuit around home as a singer guitarist. It wasn't as if I were unsuccessful - I made money and got gigs - but there was little of the ego boost that I got at a college event from my friends. After a couple of years, then, I left the music thing and went into the commercial carpet business. Yes, friends, I turned around 180 degrees and swam upstream for seven long years in the business field.

I won't bore ya'll or myself with an accounting of those years. Suffice it to say that I learned a lot about business and eventually met my wife while I was selling carpet. Like my college years, I often look at my years as a salesman as wasted ones, but I think that they were a necessary detour for me to get where I am today.

Fast forward thirteen years later to 2005 and I'm doing this kid music thing quite successfully. No, I'm not a household name you know from television or records, but I have succeeded in my field. I'm an arts-in-education professional - a respected musician and businessman and, most importantly, I enjoy doing what I do: bringing good music and drama to kids. I also get to work with Beth and some great actors. My business is growing well enough that we've been able to buy a house in Westchester, NY. Hey, not too shabby!

So, now I'm working on this ego thing. At 43 years of age, I'm looking to start trusting my own inner barometer. Why? Heck, I want to be a true artist. I want to rely not on what I think might appeal to others, but on my own truth. I'm not new to this. Many times I've written songs or made decisions based upon my own inner truth, but I want to do it in a bigger way, in ways that will expand my career to the places where I'm currently afraid to go: television, film, DVDs. In short, I want to reach more kids with my stuff, to play in the bigger arena that is national or international exposure.

As I write this, I sigh. It's very powerful for me. Truly, I have a block to overcome. I have a fear that I don't have the strength, the gumption, the drive to make this happen. All my life, I've been a big fish in a little pond. So, how am I gonna change that?

Well, getting rid of ego is one way to start. My ego is only big enough for the little pond. He can't hack it in the deeper waters of the rich, famous and super-critical. Therefore, I have to rely on something else and here's what it is: a belief that what I have to offer is great for children. I have to drive forward with the knowledge that my role in this world is to reach kids, lots of kids, with this gift that I have. To hide it, is to squander it. I need to get up every morning with the thought that the world can be a brighter place if Scott is reaching his potential.

Another sigh. I'm accustomed to hearing this voice in my head. The voice says, "Scott, forget about it. You are fine where you are and I can give you a million reasons why taking this risk is a bad idea." The voice doesn't actually have to say all that. It really comes on as a physical feeling that breathes out one word - "NO!" My brother once told me that Robert Downey, Jr. calls these voices The Shitty Committee. They are the voices in your head that belittle your ideas, your growth and try and hold you down. We all have these voices. They arrived around the same time as the ego did, huh? And like the ego, the voices need to be blown away. But first, they need to be understood.

Okay, it's time to put this to rest for now. I think I've gone and said what I needed to write in order to fall asleep.

One last thought: Beth and I are opening up our home with an event called First Saturday. Once a month, we're inviting neighbors and friends to come by and sing and play with us. I came upon a bunch of these good folk tonight and I'm both excited and nervous about having a great chorus of neighbors come over to my house. It's like - so powerful! I guess I'm overwhelemed with emotion whereas I'm usually Mr. Calm and Cool, y'know? And I think that seeing them all, having some laughs with them, made my weekend on the one hand AND it also came on the heels of this concert where I had to do most of the work. I don't know. I can't put my finger on it, but I'm sure that there's a lot going on that I'm not aware of, yet.

Stay tuned!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Parents with Artistic Children

As you might guess, my children (Helen and Stephanie) are pretty musical. While neither of them is taking an instrument right now, they are always around music and the theater. Like my brother (Craig) and I, they are growing up in a home where the arts is respected and is often part of the fabric of our days.

When I was a kid, my parents had one of those big console stereos. Remember those? It was a credenza with a pop-up lid where the phonograph and the radio were hidden. The speakers were at either end of the credenza. I thought it was so cool and I loved going down to our playroom to open the lid and fiddle with the buttons. Even then, I was displaying a technological bent that would eventually serve me well as a musician/producer!

Mom and Dad loved musical theater, so our home was often full of the sounds of a Broadway show. Everyone sang along with their favorites - Fiddler on the Roof, Camelot, My Fair Lady - and, especially, The Music Man. My parents also played what was popular: Beatles, Dionne Warwick, Barbara Streisand, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. By osmosis, then, Craig and I got a pretty good musical education that featured excellent songwriters and wonderful performers.

It was also during these years that we joined a community theater group called The Harrison Players. Since my parents met when they both were acting in summer stock productions, it was natural for them to continue their interest in drama. My dad was more of a straight actor. I remember seeing old posters and publicity photos from his acting days. He was a handsome man, rail thin and I'm sure he had no problem "taking up the stage" with his presence. My mom was and is very funny. She played the heck out of Adelaide in Guys and Dolls a couple of times. I was very proud of my parents growing up. I idolized them, so it was very painful when they divorced when I was only twelve. Up until then, we all took part in the productions. Craig and I first played newsboys in Gypsy. Good times full of happy memories. I'm sure we both learned a lot that we still apply in our careers.

So, as a parent I'm aware that my children are getting an education just by being around us. We've been taking them to our shows since they were in Beth's womb! Do they always enjoy coming to our shows? No, of course they don't. They usually moan when we say they have to accompany us. Go figure. There's a few good reasons why they don't like it: they "lose" their parents to other kids and they've heard our songs a million times. Also, we probably embarass Helen. She's eleven and you know how middle school kids are! Stephanie, who is six, will sometimes come on stage with us, but only if Helen's not around.

I'm okay with the fact that my kids don't idolize me. It would probably be unhealthy for them and I also see them as very independent artists on their own. They are constantly making up stories with their friends or drawing or making videos and presenting shows to us. In other words, they have a healthy, creative side that they express when and how they want to. I learned early on - don't force them to do the arts. One sure way to turn them off is to make them do something that should be fun. They'll arrive on their terms, not mine.



Today, I created this blog after hearing about the blogosphere - is that spelled right? - on NPR ad infinitum. I've been writing children's music for thirteen years with my wife, Beth. Together we perform music at schools and libraries. It's a great job. We've been able to support our family, buy a house and wake up every morning with the knowledge that we actually like our job.

This blog will be a place where I can offer up opinions or start discussions about a variety of topics related to children's music, my own life or the place of the arts in our kids' lives. I welcome anyone's input and will do my best to keep the postings fresh and real.

Reality for me right now is that I have to get my oldest daughter Helen at her bus stop or I'm in the parental lockup!