I believe in the power of music. Music is more than a reasonable excuse for me to get out of bed in the morning because any given situation in my life is ably articulated by this infinite language of expression. No matter the situation at hand, I have always found reason in music to express myself; the ability to do so grows with me each and every year. Music has been a love and a passion of mine for most of my life. I have universally communicated to others both on a personal and spiritual level through my playing experiences. Over the years I have played gigs all around the state with various artists; each gig seems to teach me something new. Stylistically, influences of mine I have found tend to blend together and range from Country, Jazz, Latin, Classical, Blues, Folk, and Bluegrass. I try not to restrict myself to any one genre of musical styling, nor would I ever try and restrict myself to any possible new life experience. I see music as a language that we all speak and understand too many different extents. A constant exchange of ideas in a playing situation is what merits musical communication. Every chance that we get to share embarks a newly found conversation that expresses ideas, hopes, and dreams vested within us all.
I first became exposed to the gift of music about ten years ago in my old neighborhood of Twin Harbors. There was an old man that went by the name of Cliff Morris that lived around the block, down the street from me. He would sit on his porch often for hours a time humming, singing, and strumming melodies and harmonies on his guitar. No matter the time, weather, setting, or mood, Cliff was always playing. At the time that I first heard him, I was young and quite shy of interactions with others. I would inconspicuously ride my bike around the block many times without saying a word just to hear him play. I became fascinated at his ease of ability to speak without words through his instrument. The seemingly infinite myriad sounds that he produced easily flowed out of the sound hole of the guitar much like one would envision water flowing down a stream. You could never predict the exact path that the music would take, but you always knew what Cliff was trying to say through his playing. With each note chosen as carefully as the last, Cliff always painted an amazing story.
Mostly Cliff played ragtime and folk music. With only his fingers and an old Fender Guild acoustic, he would pick through what somewhat resembled old Merle Travis and Albert Johnson delta blues tunes. The guitar itself was an absolute gem to the eye. It had flamed maple wood back and sides with a solid dark spruce top. It beautifully captured the essence of the music that Cliff improvised unlike anything that I had ever heard before. The porch that he played upon was a brightened, worn out, settled in, brick red colored, colonial type that practically towered over the street side. Eventually my ears led me to realize what an open invitation I had available, and one late afternoon I mustered up the nerve to walk over to him. I approached him slowly, asking what any curious eight-year-old would most probably ask: “Can you teach me something?” He looked at me with a short sigh and a long smile gradually came about his face. With as warm and heartfelt of a welcoming as anyone could ever ask for, Cliff sat me down next to him on a well seasoned rocking chair that he had sitting in his attic. He was a kindhearted old man with 65 years or experience under his belt to talk about. I explained to him (to the best of my abilities) how I had become so attached to his sound and how I had always wanted to play music like him. He had a shorthanded more suitable guitar for me to play, and within moments of my first arrival he began showing me the ropes of the instrument. He taught me enough chords and scale patterns to stew up a decent tune to play, and after a brief while I became confident enough to communicate with him musically.
He loved to play this game that he called “Q and A” in which he would start off playing a phrased idea that I would, in part, respond to with an idea of my own. The game taught me to be musical in the moment. It taught me to take ideas and thoughts of mine, put them into a musical response, and to be expressive while doing so. Cliff would often times talk about his experiences as a traveling vagabond musician, how he ended up in Maryland, and how exchanging ideas with others throughout his playing career helped him to develop his own voice as a musician. Rarely would he ever speak words unaccompanied by the sounds of his own playing. It was almost as if he could have stopped verbalizing entirely at any given moment letting the music that he played tell the rest of his story.
Christmas time was around the corner and apparently my parents had seen me with Cliff periodically. They asked me what I wanted and I had alerted them of my obsession with the instrument. I could barely sleep at night because of how entrapped I had become in the language of music. All I could think about was how wonderful it would be to have a guitar of my own and that year I had a present sitting under the tree that I will never forget. Sitting under the tree was Cliff’s old Fender Guild acoustic guitar that I had fallen in love with all of this time. I became one with the instrument; I never let it leave my sight. I played day in and day out. The thirst for learning to this day has never ceased to drive me as a player. I ran over to Cliff’s house as soon as I got the chance to thank him, and we celebrated in playing as always that Christmas day.
What I can grasp most from Cliff, looking back now after having spent so much invaluable time with him is the concept that even in a life that is full of daily grinds, red lights, nine to five working schedules, family problems, disparities, and differences, there are always true outlets of expression. There are always windows to the soul for which all may share an open viewing in expressing the nuances of daily life. Eventually, Cliff passed away not too long after that last year I spent with him. In all truth, I could never thank my musical mentor enough for lighting the flame and passing down a passion that will be with me for the rest of my days. Because of Cliff, there is not an uninspired day that goes by to where I cannot look at something a little differently, explore it, and incorporate it into a meaningful musical statement such as the way that he taught me to speak with the language.
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