Creative Patronage: how a bit of encouragement changed my life.

Inner TroubadourI was infected with a musical bug around the age of 12, having shown no precocious aptitude for making music. In fact, I recall being sent out of a recorder group for blowing the instrument through my nose when I was about 7 and, although I took violin lessons for a few weeks, nothing really hooked me. However, I have never looked back since a friend of my parents introduced me to the Ukulele and a whole world opened up to me. In small ways, this person’s generosity and encouragement had a disproportionately powerful influence on how I have spent the rest of my life (particularly the hours I have racked up in musical endeavour). It makes me wonder how I might be able to creatively and quietly mentor others.

Some of the things I note about this friend:

  • He treated me as an adult, in spite of my tender age. As far as I can remember, he gave me my first ukulele but as soon as I outgrew it we made an adult arrangement by which I was to pay for a better instrument. The deal was not done through my parents but was contracted between us. He referred to it as doing business, and we even shook hands on it.
  • He took a wider interest in my life. It wasn’t just all about the ukulele, but also about flying kites and climbing trees.
  • He let me teach him. Quite early on I tried finger-picking on the uke. When I showed this to him he showed enthusiasm and let me teach him what I had figured out. He let me know when things I was into (like Jelly Roll Morton’s music) had fired his interest, too. He didn’t have to be the expert on things, just a fellow explorer.
  • He let me initiate. He had an openness that made me feel comfortable about initiating. We corresponded; I didn’t get letters asking “how’s the playing coming on”, but when I wrote asking for more chords or advice, he took the trouble to write back. I had to ask. Often in a teacher-pupil or mentoring relationship, the teacher is expected to be proactive and dictate what the student needs. In this relationship, I had to want the learning enough to ask for it.
  • He made music fun. When I saw him playing the recorder, for instance, I started to change my mind about the bad impression I had of the instrument from an earlier age.

Without being the recipient of this kind of openhanded willingness to encourage a young person, I doubt that music would have taken up such an important place in my life.

I progressed from the ukulele to the Tenor Banjo, I became obsessed with Jazz, I took clarinet lessons when I went to senior school and spent most of my break-times teaching myself the piano. At this stage, I was very much alone, trying to work stuff out by ear and reading all the books I could. However, I am quite convinced that if someone else had come into my life at that point, to act as a mentor in the same way and take me forward as a Jazz musician, life would have been very different once again. I can’t indulge in regrets, but I do often wonder what would have happened with a little more relational encouragement at this point.

Is there someone you know who needs a little bit of your unobtrusive and generous encouragement at a key moment in their creative growth?

9 thoughts on “Creative Patronage: how a bit of encouragement changed my life.

  1. How gently you chose your words but how powerful the message. How wonderful that you had your friend there to guide you AND discover right alongside you. You must of had some sense of self worth to go ahead and ask him for advice, also to know so early on that your endeavours are worth nurturing. I too try not to regret but I can only guess at how I may be today if someone had given me time and shared their knowledge. I hope I recognse that parched seed in others and help them when they ask. I wish everyone was aware of their influence and used it as well as your friend.

    1. Hello, India,

      Thank you for leaving an encouraging comment. These small things we can do for others often make a big difference and cost us very little. I tend to become so absorbed in my own projects and underestimate how much good I can do by taking a little time for other people 🙂

      Have a good week!


  2. My father when he was young played swing and jazz on clarinet and sax. My mom insisted that I learn accordion and I hated it with a passion and stopped soon after. I liked guitar better but not not enough to really want to learn it. My father used to say, son you must have music in you because none of it ever came out. It wasn’t until mid-life that I really wanted to learn an instrument, and naturally I went right for the free-reeds. Life. I work at it and it brings me a lot of joy. Every now and then I play something reasonably well. I have a young student, a 16 yr old fellow who wanted to learn either button accordion or banjo, settled on button accordion and found me. My kind of kid. He’s doing well and with a much earlier start than I had, I hope that in time he’ll be able to seriously kick my butt. I try to make our sessions fun. Sometimes I bring out my gut-bucket bass or a washboard and play percussion. Sometimes I push him pretty hard, maybe because I wish I had someone to push me pretty hard too. Practice Practice Practice. Develop some discipline. Not like that, like this. I think be both have a great time.

    1. “I hope that in time he’ll be able to seriously kick my butt” – that’s the spirit!

      In all the instruments I ever played I quickly lost interest when I got to the point of needing to press on hard into the technical aspects of playing in order to achieve mastery (as a result, I play an awful lot of instruments badly) – that is when we need a companion who will give us a little bit more of a push. I always quite fancied having a mentor who would make me do the “wax on wax off” side of technique and I think I would have benefited enormously from this. I could do with some lessons from you, too bad we live so far apart 😦

      There was a time when I thought the accordion’s versatility was going to be the answer to my eclectic musical ambitions from Jazz to Folk and back again via reggae but I think I’m going to have to sell my piano accordion to buy a better microphone. It’s sad, but it is just not getting played …

  3. Relational encouragement. Good words.

    There have been a couple of these relationships given to me along the way in both music and writing. And those relationships continue to give me the nerve to keep at it, the courage to actually consider myself a “writer” or a “musician.”

    Funny thing…just before the new year, I pulled out Julia Cameron’s book and did the “I wish…” exercise. In that list, I wished for the chance to be that person for someone else. Since then, three different relationships have taken that sort of turn. It had me a little nervous at first and doubtful that I could really be much help to them. Then I became curious to see what it might look like. Now…it’s approachable rather than intimidating, and relational rather than functional.

    Thanks : )

  4. “… approachable rather than intimidating, and relational rather than functional…” absolutely 🙂

    I think this is going to be a theme for me this year, too: seeking out a couple of relationships which are relationally encouraging but gently stretching for me and letting myself be open to where I might be that for one or two others, too.

  5. If we were all looking out for the needs of others, everyone’s needs would be met.

    You have a way with words Seymour. I love dropping by your blog and reading the richness. It’s like having an American Thanksgiving without any of the calories, but I feel just as full and satisfied.

    Thanks (fyi, I’m posting something tomorrow that is closely related to what you wrote about your uke mentor learning from you as a child. Hope you like it. ***shameless plug****)

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