Hanging With My Clan

“You need a guy who gets the musical side of you.” My writing classmate lobbed the comment into conversation over fish tacos in a suburban Halifax bistro two summers ago. It smacked the table like a cod hitting the deck.

I have no recollection of the topic at hand, except that it was totally unrelated. Most of my memory of that meal centers on the third member of our party incrementally ramping up her level of Francophone-and-restaurant-professional indignation at our server’s glacial pace, and all three of us repeatedly checking our watches, lest we miss our residency’s keynote address by one of Canada’s most respected nonfiction writers.

My friend absorbed my stare of abject confusion and my awkward chuckle. I will never know exactly why that thought popped into her head (or out of it) at that particular time. There’s a chance it had to do with a boisterous singalong at the pub sometime during that residency, but I can’t be certain. Still, it’s come back to me on a couple of occasions since then.

One was when I found myself chatting with a stranger on a train outside New York City. I’m usually a pleasantries-and-silence sort of seatmate, but if someone wants to chat, I’m up for passing the time. In this case, an older woman had sat down next to me. She was headed to see her family. I was meeting my cousin to catch a matinee of Come From Away on Broadway. Questions about the show turned into rambling chatter about music. As I described my young “drum dudes,” as I called my elementary and middle-school Scottish drumming students, she pointed out how clear it was that I truly enjoyed working with them, and how refreshing that was to see. I supposed, at the time, that was true. I did genuinely enjoy watching the kids learn new skills … both as musicians and as part of a corps, as teammates, as people who could respect one another’s contributions and personalities, different though they were.

The most recent reminder descended this weekend. After several months of flat-out, all-consuming, all-colliding work, I’m starting to emerge from my cocoon. So, when I found that two of my former pipe majors and a former bandmate would be playing a Celtic traditional music concert at one of my usual haunts on Saturday night, I decided to head down and hang out with the crew. Another former bandmate and his family, along with the family of one of my former co-instructors also arrived, and we all got to have a good catch-up.

I was reminded that I’ve been lucky enough, through the years, to play in pipe bands with a host of extraordinarily talented musicians. Bagpipes and drums attract their fair share of rogues and rakes and unsavory individuals. They also attract an unusually high number of prodigies, honors students, sensitive souls, brilliant brains, and upstanding characters. The competitive side of the genre doesn’t always bring out the best of the participants (myself, for example). But the broader playground is full of good music, good people and good fun.

After seeing my friends put on their usual stunning performance (and wishing the audience was both more ample and more animated), I put myself in the car and took myself up the road toward home. I realized that I was smiling at nothing as I cruised along through the fall darkness, just enjoying the residual warmth of the greetings, the hugs and the grins.

And I realized that for those who know me as the serious, calm and measured problem-solver, it might be a bit hard to picture me clapping loudly to reels, swaying and stomping along to jigs, or belting the chorus to a favorite song. While, on the flip side, the people who know me as a musician have seen me grinning and winking, hooting and hollering in beer tents and kitchens … and they’ve seen me being focused and serious on the music and the logistics, too.

Which means, in fact, that my friend in Atlantic Canada may have made a valuable observation, as odd in timing as it was. After all, if only the music and arts people get to see me as a whole person, then maybe I should be spending more time with music and arts people.