Supporting and Fostering Musical Ambition

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I’ve written a great deal about my musical history and background this year. However, there are parts I’ve left out that come to mind, especially today. Today would have been my mother’s 77th birthday. She was taken by cancer in 2015. Aside from my wife and father, she was always one of my biggest supporters, not just musically, but with life in general. There have been many supporters over the years, but none greater than my mom.

Music has been around me my entire life. My elementary school days I remember my dad listening to his jazz and big band records in the house and my mom her classical (and the Beatles). Around age 10, I started playing alto saxophone in the school band. It was brutal at first. My parents had great patience listening to my practicing, sounding like I was killing geese. Did they make me start? No. They thought it might be of interest to me since I was very much into listening to a great variety music.

At age 12, my parents divorced. My mom gave me the option of her buying the saxophone if I wanted. I turned down the opportunity even though, in hindsight, it might have been a good way to integrate into a new school. My musical tastes were changing and a saxophone was not a part of the genres I was interested in at the time. My bedroom wall had posters of Judas Priest, AC/DC, and Van Halen, not Chuck Mangione.

Over the next couple of years, I would borrow friends’ guitars. Most of the time my mom was at work when I was playing. However, I do remember one time when I was around 15; my mom was walking past the T.V. room where I played, stopped for a moment, and just listened. She said, “You’re getting pretty good with that thing.” Not too long after, she bought me my first guitar (1984).

She was so cool, because she actually would remember the bands I listened to, read about in music magazines, and their videos (back when MTV actually played music videos). What I didn’t realize at the time was that part of being a good parent was knowing your child’s interests. She told me this a few decades later before she died. She didn’t like the music that much at all, but it was my interest, so it became hers as well. That’s what fostering and supporting is all about.

By the time I was getting out of the Navy in 1990, I had three guitars. Whenever I wasn’t working or causing trouble, I was playing guitar. I was seriously considering making music my career as I received so many compliments from other musicians and just really enjoyed playing. However, parents have a good way of explaining the possibilities of certain paths and how they might not be the best idea at the time.

I listened to them both. I’m not sure if they were talking over the phone or not, but they had similar sensible reasoning, frustrating as it was for the time being. They said I should go to college. I could take music classes as well, but I should have some kind of degree to fall back on in case the music career didn’t pan out. So, for the next six years, I put myself through college. I did take some music classes, even piano for a year. However, I never stopped playing guitar. In fact, I played more than I ever had previously, even though I was studying earth sciences.

In 1996, I graduated with a B.S. in Geology and Geological Oceanography. I was lucky in that not long after, I got hired by the federal government as an Oceanographer. This wound up being my career for over 15 years. My parents were relieved in a way. They somehow knew how difficult it would be to make a career in the music industry. Now they wouldn’t have to worry. I do sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had gone into the music industry at that time, but I didn’t. Reflection can be a good thing depending on how it’s used. I’m very glad I had the career I did for it actually helped shape me into the person I am today.

During my federal career, I did stop playing guitar for about five years. However, when I picked it back up, I had an unquenchable thirst to play, learn, and create. A few years later, my mom’s cancer came back with a vengeance. I resigned my career position and moved back home to take care of her, after all, what’s more important than family?

It was during her final months that I learned a great deal about life. Even though she was very ill, her primary focus was still to foster and support the ambitions of my then fiancé and me. Don’t get me wrong, she could still be a major pain in the ass, especially when it came to eating her vegetables (funny how the tables turn when you’re older), but she enjoyed us being there for her.

My mom had medicinally induced dementia. It seemed to be constant, but she did have her moments of clarity. I remember clearly one day I was taking her to a neurology appointment and I was having a very difficult time thinking about my next career move. I had just gotten into my current band and was REALLY enjoying myself. However, I felt that I should do something based on my education and old career. My mom said, “Maybe that chapter of your life is over. You did what you were supposed to do, you used the education and more than paid for it many times over. Maybe this music thing is your new direction. It’s been your passion your entire life.” I was speechless. A moment of clarity and she said volumes in an instant. It changed my life.

That was one instance of many learning experiences. One of the most important lessons: Live life, don’t let life live you. Be who you want to be, don’t let society choose that for you. There are so many more I could quote. The thing is, even after she passed, she set it up so that my wife and I are taken care of for many years. Supporting and fostering, even after death. She had supported me one way or another her entire life. For that I am eternally grateful.

So, my wife and I are moving forward with the lives we want to live. I’m playing in a band and have even started building guitars, hoping to create a business. My dad has been very supportive in this new path. Just recently out of the blue, he sent me a hard cover book of the history and timelines of the greatest guitar builders. My wife has gotten her master’s degree and is now working on her doctorate. We live frugally, but have everything we need. We have a roof over our heads, food on the table, bills are paid, but most importantly the love and support of each other, family, and friends.

Happy birthday mom. Thank you for your continued love and support.

-Scott Duncan - MU Columnist

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