A Tourist in the Land of Music

Even before her son Phillip was a year old, Barbara Sparks knew he had a talent for music. Phillip plays with several bands and has performed at the Roxy and Whiskey A Go Go  His day job is that of lawyer. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns My tour through the land of music began quite unexpectedly, and my tour guide was a surprise. There stood my nine-month-old son Phillip, holding the side of the crib while moving his head in perfect rhythm to the music on Sesame Street.  That movement of his head to the beat of the music was a preview of what was to come. My tour through the Land of Music, led by my son, took me to many places and through many genres of music.

In the car, on the way home, I was taught all the songs that he sang in preschool. When he was in elementary school, I traveled to performances and sometimes to special meetings with his teachers. These teacher visits were music-related.

One year he could not perform in the Christmas Program because he continued to talk to other members of the choir during practice. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t talk. After all, he always sang when he was supposed to sing. He only talked to his friends when the music teacher was giving directions. He also insisted that he should be allowed to sing in the section with the girls, but the music teacher would not grant his wish. When I asked why he wanted to be in that section, he answered, “I want to sing the high notes.”

Since music is in my son’s soul, music went everywhere with him. In his second grade classroom I was asked to meet with his teacher. She was quite concerned about Philip’s behavior during scripture reading. It seems that Phillip was using his pencil to beat on the desk to whatever musical vibrations were in his head. When I asked why he wasn’t reading with the rest of the students, he said, “I know how to read and I can read the Bible by myself.”

I explained very firmly that I knew he could read, but he had to follow school rules and drumming on his desk was against the rules.  Of course there was no established written rule because no one had ever used a desk before as a drum.

Phillip’s grandmother paid for piano lessons.  The only problem was that he didn’t like to practice, even though he enjoyed the lessons. He had to practice in the church all by himself and he said it was dark and scary. We stopped the lessons but Phillip didn’t stop playing.  He started playing the keyboard, and he didn’t need the written notes because he could play by ear. Somehow, he would find the notes for the songs that he liked. He always had an explanation for why he did things his way.

The next stop of the tour took me to middle school where he exhibited a new talent. To the surprise of the school’s assistant principal and myself, he entered a school talent show with two of his friends.  Phillip is the ultimate nerd, or so people think. However, he and his friends won the talent show with a rap that Phillip wrote. Phillip does not look, talk, or act like a rapper.

In high school Phillip joined a band and played the drums. He had no formal lessons but he played them anyway. This was a time that I was happy that I had no room in my garage for cars because that meant there was no room for band practice.

The parents of his best friend Steve let them use their bonus room. The band played at Steve’s parents’ house for a New Year’s Eve Party, in the Whitney Talent Show, at the Roxy, and at the Whiskey a Go Go.

It was during this period that Phillip started writing music and lyrics for two bands – Feedback and Nocturnal Overload.  My favorite song was “So Says the Queen.” This song was about me – I was the queen in the song and of course, as the queen, I had absolute power.  The theme of the song was a mother’s use of the words “NO! You can’t!”  I loved the song.  The bands didn’t share my enthusiasm and it was never performed.

Phillip decided that he really wanted to be an expert at playing the drums so he asked me to pay for drum lessons.  I told him that he would have to pay for his own lessons, so he got a job at Taco Bell. I must admit that the lessons were useful. He is a talented drummer. He has played for a jazz group, a folk singer, the UCLA Gospel Choir, churches, and he was even the drummer who announces the Queen at the Renaissance Faire.

Hang on, because my trip is not over. My tour guide, Phillip, took me many places I would never dream of going. He introduced me to music that I thought I would never like, and people who I would never have had a desire to meet. As a result, I have changed some of my stereotypical beliefs about musicians as he guided me through the fascinating Land of Music.



Published: Dec. 4, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 34