Know Your Place


steve150In August, we’re celebrating my Dad’s retirement. This marks the end of a great career, and the beginning of the phase in our lives where we’re not going to be surprised that he’s taken to wearing black socks and sandals.

There have been several factors that contributed to Dad’s success in business and in life: his drive, intelligence and communication skills are just a few. But in my estimation, there is one factor that is often overlooked and perhaps the most important of all: my Mom.

While Dad was working, Mom was in charge of the home. She was the one who had to organize things the 7 times we moved – which included 6 cities in 3 provinces (witness protection…don’t ask). She was the one that made our lunches and met with our teachers. She took care of making supper, but also making sure that we kids learned how to make our own suppers too! She worked outside the home to from time to time, but her primary role was that of caregiver. Mom understands her role, and is as successful at that as Dad was in his career.

Plus, she raised me, which is an unrivaled accomplishment of awesomeness.

Her only failure was in trying to instill some humility in me. But I’m great, so who cares?

Thinking about Mom’s role in Dad’s retirement inspired this column. Dad’s getting the glory, but Mom should be given credit too. While Dad is the conductor, Mom is the orchestra. (Or the train, depending on which conductor hat Dad needed to wear!) Dad is David Copperfield; Mom is the beautiful assistant who gets sawed in half. Dad is the Keith Richards. Mom is Ronnie Wood. Dad is lead. Mom is rhythm. Knowing their place has made them successful.

Knowing your place isn’t disrespectful. It’s not about being judgmental or condescending. It’s about recognizing your strengths and appreciating the strengths of others. In music, it’s often referred to as ‘finding the pocket’.

We’ve all had it happen before: we’re playing a gig or practicing with friends and suddenly everything just falls into place, and you play the song or the set exactly as you wanted to. Everyone is synchronized, levels are balanced, and the sum appears greater than the total of the individual parts. This comes from finding your place, and playing there.

Much like Mom’s role, I am a rhythm player. My job is to provide a tempo and feel for the song. When I’m with musicians and we’re playing in the pocket, we hear each other, respect the space in the music, and generally have more fun in the process.

I find that the music that resonates the most with me is laced with honesty. It’s pure in its intention with nothing getting in the way of the message or the feel. When it comes to guitar, the rhythm needs to lay down a solid foundation for the lead to build on. But the lead also needs to know it’s place – sometimes it’s what you don’t play that makes the magic. Trying to do too much is sometimes distracting. Look at how Neil Young solos. Sometimes just one note is the right thing to play. We should try to play the right note…not all of them!

A musician’s best tools are his / her ears. As such, we must practice active listening when playing. Although the temptation may be to focus solely on what we’re doing, paying attention to the musicians around you makes you a better player, because it trains you to find – and stay in – that pocket.

A song should be a message, from the artist to the intended audience. The musicians need to allow the message room to breathe – to be communicated. The goal is to serve the message. To serve the song. Sometimes to do that, we need to take a back seat and know that our place is critical, even if it’s a supporting role. After all, a house won’t stand without a solid foundation.

This is just one of the lessons that I’ve learned from my Mom.

Good luck having Dad home all the time now, wandering around the property with his Tilley hat and metal detector.

And no, you can’t come live with me.


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