I have a Parkwood acoustic guitar that I call Parker. He and I have been together now since the fall of 2007. I wouldn’t say that we are inseparable; but I can say that wherever I go, Parker soon follows.
I’ve gotten used to Parker’s sound and the feel of his neck. I suppose he’s gotten used to my fingers fumbling for chords and my rudimentary picking. Hopefully, he can forgive me for playing the same songs over and over—and over.
Part of my wayward journey involves Parker. He and I became friends at a time of great personal upheaval (the roller coaster of separation, then divorce), and I wanted music to be in my life again. I played trumpet in high school and college. I also took up piano for a while. Then all of that slid by the wayside as career and family life took over. Fast forward about 30 years, and I was in serious midlife crisis mode. Music seemed a way to help me navigate some pretty rough seas, and I had always wanted to learn to play the guitar.
So my son, who is a really good guitar player, took me to Guitar Center, and we tried out guitars. I had no idea what to look for, but Parker caught my eye and I knew he was the one. Maybe it was love at first sight.
I bought Parker and fooled around on my own for about five months, struggling to figure out an instrument that turned out to be harder to play than I imagined. “If teenagers can pick up the guitar, why can’t I?” I lamented.
Finally I broke down and signed up for lessons at a Music & Arts. Once a week, I drive to a shopping center in Springfield and take a lesson from Matt. At times it seems absurd, this young guy teaching me songs that I grew up listening to, but he knows only through YouTube. Something about it clicks, though, and I’ve made Wednesday evenings my special time to be with Parker and Matt.
Matt doesn’t so much teach but show me music. Each week, like a doctor, he prescribes a new song for me to play. He writes down the tablature in my spiral-bound music book, and we go through it a couple of times. The rest is up to me.
You’d think after four years of these encounters, I’d be pretty good; but that would be a wildly generous statement. I can play the basic chords finally, but I am nowhere near where I’d like to be. I’m finding that the guitar is an amazing instrument, one that I’m not sure even great players ever totally master.
But I do have an advantage over younger, less-patient students. I know from my years of practicing the trumpet that it takes time. I started the trumpet in fifth grade and didn’t really start feeling good about my playing until high school. So I know that practice and persistence can pay off. I went from being one of the worst trumpet players in ninth grade to first chair my senior year.
There are some things in life that you try to work into your busy schedule no matter what. Playing Parker is one of those for me. Music is a soothing balm, a magical, lyrical space that is more than just tempo, fingering and sound. It can be spine-tingling and magnificent, it can be wild and energetic, it can be as peaceful as a lullaby. It’s therapy, wonder and exercise all wrapped up in one beautifully fashioned piece of wood and six stretched, metal strings.
If you have never taken up an instrument, I highly recommend it. Study after study shows the intellectual, emotional and health benefits of playing and listening to music. It’s a proven fact that music can reduce stress, even lower your heart rate. So if for no other reason, chill out to your own version of Parker. You won’t regret it.