Our mother, Vi Burnett said something to me once about her family and us children that I continue to find to be subtly insightful.
“You don’t know what type of people you are raising. You just do your best and hope life doesn’t hurt them too badly that it dampens their spirit.”
— Mom Burnett
She also often quoted the adage that our children are only “on loan to us for a few years.”
But the thing that really stuck most of all is when she said that “you will never forget the times when all of your children were still living in your home.”
I understand her context much better now that I am the exact age she was when she said that to me in the 1990s. And, it’s true.
It’s not that you want to smother your children and keep them from engaging their own lives. It’s that you miss the times and when you finally figure out what you are doing, your kiddos are gone. It’s both beautiful and melancholy at once.
The goal of parenthood – bringing people into the world who didn’t ask to be here – is to nurture positive contributors to this world.
In hindsight, I can say we have done that in parenting both our son and daughter.
We’re equally proud of both of them as kick-ass adults and just as in love with them today as we were on those days we respectively met each of them in their delivery hospitals.
Every year since we have been together, we have had a “winter vacation break project.”You know this type project. Yours probably could even be one like our office bookshelf and office storage space morphed into. It’s something that you plan to get around to doing, but never do during the course of the year because you can find what you need in the immediate and are able to get done what you need to get done despite there being no organized system in place to facilitate efficiency and accountability.
BUT . . . WE TRULY ARE ORGANIZED PEOPLE . . . REALLY WE ARE . . .
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher . . . is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist’ . . .”
– Maria Montessori
Nonetheless, it never fails that we find a better system or more logical process to use somewhere in our day-to-day living that helps out tremendously.
And it seems that during the course of simply living, while continuing to learn and grow, we will periodically find that old systems and methods are no longer functionally useful.
THE LIBRARY OF A COUPLE OF ACTIVE PROFESSIONAL WOODWIND MUSICIANS
“The principle goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.”
– Jean Piaget
We use everything in our office bookshelf space as part of our business activities, woodwind studio teaching practices, and individual studies as professional musicians.
So, in our experiences, such resets are usually a good thing.
SOME HISTORIC ITEMS + JAMES R. FUCHS AND CHARLIE MOLINA
“It isn’t where you came from, it’s where you’re going that counts.”
– Ella Fitzgerald
I started playing a band instrument in the 9th grade, which is still late by most standards. In addition to the cursory learning to play some rudimentary form of the recorder, I studied the violin in the 4th grade growing up in Paola, Kansas. Yes, Paola, Kansas. However, I participated in private music programs at our church and had pretty good general music classes during grade school and junior high.
“Tell me, and I forget. Show me, and I remember. Involve me, and I understand.”
– Chinese proverb
Mr. Jim Fuchs taught me clarinet and saxophone. I played clarinet initially and then essentially played the saxophone from the 10th grade onward. Paola had its own music store in town back then too. That’s how I first met Charlie Molina, who was one of the owners and a Conn Clinician. I auditioned and successfully passed auditions to qualify for the military music programs of both, the Army and Air Force. I chose the Army.
“I’m still learning.”
*The main photograph of this post is from our family trip to England during Christmas time – exactly 5 years ago on this date. All other photographs are during the work.
The little guy at the piano in the featured image of this post is our youngest grandson.
Like all of our children and grandchildren, he’s very “musical.”
But, there’s something special about him that makes me think he’s our next musician among our progeny and could likely help carry music into future generations.
He sings and hums to himself while doing most any task.
He moves to music when it’s being played on television or in real-time by someone on a musical instrument.
Whereas most people don’t hear the music that is going on around them like the underscore of movies, I’ve noticed that this little guy genuinely notices all musical notes – even those found in everyday things like the sound of a glass “clinking.”
He also actually matches pitch pretty well too!
It seems music is a natural consideration for him. I think he’s “our next musician.”
Both, T and I remember being like that too…
Letting them choose…
When our children were born we decided that they both would be required to learn a musical instrument. First the piano and then a band instrument which they would be required to play throughout middle and high school.
Our reasoning was sound because learning a musical instrument develops the brain in ways other subjects and activities do not. That was our primary agenda.
And people who know music in an applied context always seem to be more well-rounded than those who do not. I think it’s because they learned how to create art.
Both, our son and daughter were brilliant young musicians.
They were always among the best musicians of their generation and neither really worked too hard at it beyond playing at school or occasionally playing with us at home.
We really hoped they’d ultimately choose music like we did, and take it further.
Neither did. It wasn’t their “thing.” Although I believe either our son or daughter could have been successful as working professional performing artists and musicians.
Another true story…
Our daughter hadn’t played her flute for at least 10 years when we were visiting her at her family’s home one year and brought our flutes with us.
We pulled out some flute trio music and asked her to play.
She literally had to dig around the long-term storage spaces of her house for about thirty minutes before she finally found her flute.
When she found it we spent the next couple of hours playing trios and our daughter made less mistakes than I did. Brilliant!
I guess it really is “like riding a bike” …
I have told both of our children half-jokingly that we could have “made” them into musicians if we had wanted to do so and they would not have been aware we did it.
It’s sort of like the sports parents who get their kid a personal trainer in preschool.
We could have literally turned them into phenomenal musicians without their consent.
And we could have steered them into a career in the music industry as well.
We didn’t want to do that because we think being an artist is largely a choice.
Instead we took the path of teaching them applied music to a high level and then letting them choose whether to pursue it further from an informed perspective.
Neither chose music in that context.
But, that little guy in the first picture just might.
The main photograph of this post is of the Jay McShann tribute big band saxophone section which included (left to right):
Gerald Dunn, Christopher Burnett (yes, with the large Afro hairstyle), Dennis Winslett, Bobby Watson, Ahmed Alaadeen and Kerry Strayer (not shown).
I had actually met the great Jay McShannand interacted with him several times.
This tribute event was held in early 2007 at the historic Gem Theater in the jazz district of Kansas City.
Alaadeen, who first introduced me to Jay, invited me to play in this tribute – but, I don’t think he was formerly authorized to do so because the cats initially acted somewhat surprised to see me there with my horn.
Even though nobody said anything to me, I figured it out when there were three alto players during the first set. Awkward. Normally I would have left under such circumstances and not even played but I listened to my inner voice and stayed.
And since I had actually met Jay and interacted with him several times enough to have gotten to know him somewhat, I wanted to simply add my musical voice to this tribute.
It turned out to be a very nice event honoring a true master of jazz and blues.
Jay McShann was also the first professional bandleader to hire Charlie Parker.
We played two sets. Bobby had to leave after the first and let me play lead the next set.
All of the players were pretty nice to me since I could play the parts and was there unawares and sincerely by invitation of a KC jazz master.
This was my introduction to the realities of life in the music outside of military bands.
Sometimes you just have to make a place for yourself in life and the music industry because others won’t do it for you. What a great opportunity and honor this was.
Those are the types of substantive lessons I learned from the late Ahmed Alaadeen along with the technical aspects of music we studied. He was my last great teacher.
I’m still going strong and have artistically established myself teaching music in addition to performing and composing.
I began my career by serving 22-years with the professional military bands system.
And 2018 marked another career milestone of being professionally active on the at-large music industry scene for 22-years after military service. That’s pretty cool.
2019 marks entry into new territory of sorts…
As my late brother who was truly a world class musician once told me:
All of the music I write is motivated by life – a person, place or thing.
THE STORY BEHIND THE SONG
Being a child of the US Civil Rights Era (literally, I was born in 1955), I watched my parents work twice as hard to just be even, vote for the first time in their forties and never teach hate or negativity to us children.
I also saw the stresses of life as a black family after they left military service society contribute to their ultimate divorce.
The last conversation I had with my father before he left for good was one where I saw a tear in his eye.
Until then, I had never before seen him even come close to crying.
He saw that I noticed and told me that crying isn’t a weakness but a strength.
“When we cry it is our purest form of sincerity and it’s a form of communication that is beyond language.
And when we cry angels sing.”
I never forgot that wisdom.
Anytime I confront issues of social justice I remember how important it is to provide sanctuary for those in our charge like our spouse and children.
I’ve had to start over a few times over the years dealing with life matters compounded by the fact of who I am as a man.
We have a thing in our family that is a commitment to never leave anyone behind because we all are going to be wounded by society and life at some point.
I’m committed to living a positive life, with love and one of meritorious self-determination.
Sometimes you run into people who hurt you for that, but I always remember – “when we cry, angels sing” …
And we grow stronger too.
I’m not a poet by any means. But all of my music also has lyrics although I perform and record my music instrumentally.
“WHENEVER WE CRY”
May not be en vogue To be so open and sincere Being in love finds a way To expose every weakness and fear To reveal all of your sunshine and good cheer
So don’t be put off by the moisture in my
Eyes can only see Some things and how they need to be In life’s rude games sometimes played Or those times when we forget to use our best selves
As your own child takes those first steps Hold your breath
We were professional musicians before we met each other in the middle 1970s while working overseas for the U.S. Army’s music program.
Our children and grandchildren likely associate music being created and instruments being played in our home as just a part of life while growing up and over the subsequent years.
We are now ARC recording artists with several releases on the market. We document our music on recordings as part of the inherent legacy representing some of our respective musical works created during the course of the journey of our lives.
The Latest Recording Project
Our latest recording project will be produced and released commercially on the ARC label in 2020. A recent post thoroughly describes “The Standards Project.”
But, our very first recording session was produced during our off-duty hours while we were members of the Army Band at Ansbach, Germany.
The Very First Recording Session
We have always believed in creating the type of life we want to live and that includes where our musical careers are concerned as well.
We don’t wait for things to happen to us. We work to make the things we want to happen. This first recording session illustrates this fact in a very cool way. It was thoroughly planned as well.
By 1979 I was just about finished with the composition and arranging course I was enrolled in and taking from the Berklee College of Music in Boston by mailed correspondence. It took 3 years to compete.
I was writing lots of “tunes” by then and had officially joined the arranging staff of the Army band. Several of my charts were being played in concerts, shows or tours.
We hadn’t a clue of what we were doing as record producers beyond basic knowledge in terms of understanding the music and how to operate the equipment we were using to record.
We didn’t even consider post-production concerns or commercial distribution of the music we recorded.
We were simply learning and creating something musically positive for all of us to do rather than just sit around between the Army band gigs.
Our very first recording session date was December 18, 1979
We produced the recording with fellow Army musicians we worked with at that time.
? The images posted here are of my decades old hand-written notes, LOL!
We recorded one of my originals and my arrangement of Sonny Rollins’ “Pent-Up House.” Following are the credits:
Bob Henry, engineer;
Larry Bennett and James McNeal, trumpet;
Christopher Burnett, alto saxophone;
R. Stephen Gilbert, tenor and soprano saxophones;
Gene Smith, trombone;
Leon Johnson, Fender Rhodes;
Bruce Shockley, bass;
and Dennis Butler, drums.
Terri Anderson Burnett and Christopher Burnett, producers.
For some reason, it all worked out.
Forty Years Later
We are still practicing, performing, teaching, writing and recording music.
There’s no manual for living life that guarantees ultimate outcomes because people have the will to choose. And the travels during a life can wound some beyond repair.
As parents, you just live each day with the intent of creating positive experiences and environments where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. And, always love one another. That’s the best you can likely do as human beings and parents.
We adopted the philosophy to err on the side of love. When our children need us collectively and individually, we are always there for them to the best of our ability.
We are only mortal and do have favorites as parents though.
They are our favorite son and favorite daughter respectively.
Our late mother, Vi Burnett used to say:
“You never know what type of person you are ultimately raising – you simply do your best by your children and the decisions they ultimately make will determine who they become as autonomous adults.”