Music has always been a part of my life. My earliest memories of music bring me back to family room dance parties to songs like Paperback Writer (The Beatles) and Fun, Fun, Fun (The Beach Boys) with my dad and brother in Neenah, WI. I took piano lessons. I learned the saxophone, which I played up into the jazz band at the University of Minnesota. I even dazzled audiences with one year of show choir in high school. 

But after the stint of jazz band in college, my relationship to music shifted from playing music to simply enjoying music. I am often the one who puts music on around the house. I’ve curated many playlists for many occasions: beach volleyball games, exercise, writing, making brunch, karaoke songs for baritones, and I even made one specifically for my 20-year high school reunion. I join and occasionally instigate dance parties. I often am tapping out percussive beats with my fingers in idle moments. Every time I’m around live music I can feel my soul come alive. 

But in the last three weeks, music feels like it’s found me in a new way. 

Nineteen days ago I drove an hour and a half to the city of Liberia, where, in the parking lot of Pequeno Mundo (think Costa Rican K-Mart), with my five year old at my side, I purchased a used alto saxophone from a guy I found on Facebook Marketplace. Why? A combination of curiosity and peer pressure. 

Since then, the last nineteen days have been a bit of a musical whirlwind. 



When I was getting ready to move to Costa Rica last year, I intended to take some time away from the business world, to take a break from the hustle and bustle. I had a roughly defined mental list of new priorities for this mid-life mini-retirement; I would be trading the capitalist productivity grind to spend more time on things like relationship strengthening, physical and mental self care, and creative expression. 

My basic plan for what I’d be diving into creatively can be expressed in two words: writing and music. Most of the writing I’d done in the last 20 years came in the form of composing emails to prospective advertising clients, and while I believe I have some skill in that department, my intention for Costa Rica was that I’d allow myself the time and spaciousness to write more creatively, writing whatever I’d want to put on my blog, documenting our adventure, and attempting to compose the occasional song. 

In fact, I envisioned spending countless hours in front of my keyboard and computer screen, headphones on, tinkering away at the alluring and intimidating venture of songwriting. The idea was that if I gave myself the permission to do as little as possible other than to create, to temporarily remove the burden of needing to trade my labor for currency, to allow myself to dive into the deep end of a creative endeavor with no expectation of a “quality” outcome, no commercial goal, then maybe, just maybe, as I racked up those hours of practice I’d get good enough at it to create an entire song (or three) I’m truly proud of. I was so excited about this plan that I couldn’t wait to get started; I had a rudimentary setup in our basement in Minnesota for a few months before we moved where I made a few basic instrumental tracks (and recorded a birthday song for Kristyn with the help of our kids) before dismantling the gear and packing it up in our shipping pod.

As part of the move to Costa Rica, we got rid of many of our possessions, including my tenor saxophone I’d held onto since college. I was in the head space of, “if it’s not essential, it ain’t coming with us.” I don’t regret selling it; I had no idea what life was going to be like down here, and I was embracing that not-knowing and living out my value of minimalism by getting rid of everything that felt non-essential. I’d probably only opened the thing 5-10 times in the last 20 years, so it felt like it was time to say goodbye. 

Once we arrived in Costa Rica, due to the construction timeline of our guest bedroom (which is where the simple keyboard recording setup was planned to be) and our inviting another family of four to live with us for the last two months (future blog post forthcoming), the recording gear has yet to be unboxed, but it is still very much the intention to get this going soon. 

So while songwriting and at-home musical recording has always been in the plan, what was definitely not part of my creative vision with this international-move-life-reset was musical performance. You see, I’m not a great piano player. The last time I was consistently practicing piano I was probably 10 or 12 years old. If I tried to perform a live show as a singer/pianist, Elton John-style, it would be the most horrendous crash and burn the musical world has ever seen. Play piano and sing at the same time?! Who do I look like, Stevie Wonder?

But there’s this beautiful thing today called technology, and technology allows less-than-mediocre keyboardists like myself to make above average music. By recording one track at a time, and giving myself as many dozen takes as I need, I can eventually plunk out a dance-worthy four note bass line. Then I can loop the bass line, and build from there. Infinite takes and the ability to loop–the magical musical concoction that unlocks songmaking for mere mortals like me.

But perform music? Play with other musicians? This wasn’t on my radar. I didn’t feel like I had the chops in any instrument I brought with me (keyboard, guitar, harmonica, pan flute) to be able to pull that off. Actually it was even less on my radar than that; it was not in my consideration set of activities I’d do in Costa Rica whatsoever. 



That all changed in one conversation between me and another guy, after one of our meetings for the La Paz School Gymnasium Fundraising Committee. He was barely an acquaintance. Somehow we got on the topic of music and he mentioned he plays bass and has been playing some with other musicians in the area. I shared that, while I’m very into music and was planning on creating some music at home, my strongest instrument is saxophone, which I don’t have anymore. His intrigue at this point of information was palpable. “You can play sax?! You really oughta get one. Oh man I’ve always wanted to have a sax player in the band so we can play some…” he continued naming a few artists, albums, and songs, but I had lost full attention of his words, because I noticed a flicker  of a flame being ignited within me. Just a flicker. I thought, “Maybe I could play sax down here? But nah, I sold it. It’s fun to dream, but it’s been so long since I actually played, it would take ages to be able to be good enough that anyone would want me to play with them.” 

Over the next few weeks, this fellow parent of children at La Paz School kept sending me links to used saxophones on Facebook Marketplace. Out of curiosity, I messaged a few of the owners, asking them details about their instruments and to send me a video of them playing it so I could hear that all the notes work. I didn’t have a master plan, and I wasn’t fully intending on buying one; I was simply tugging at a thread of curiosity. The first two videos I received back didn’t wow me, so even though the instruments may have been diamonds in the rough, since their owners weren’t able to make them sound great, I kindly passed. Then one day I get another lead from my incessant friend, and the owner of this sax sends me a video that I rewatch three times–he sounded that good! I get a huge wave of excitement. The price is reasonable. It looks to be in good shape. And it sounds great. The flicker of the flame sparks into a roaring fire, and in a moment I know I have to buy this saxophone. A few days later, I met the owner at the halfway point between here and his home (4 hours away), and in the parking lot of Costa Rican K-Mart, I became reunited with the instrument from my teenage years. 

That was nineteen days ago. 

Twelve days ago I played on stage with a rock band in front of 200 Costa Rican motorcycle riders. 



The day after I bought the sax I sent a selfie of me holding the horn to that persistent friend of mine, Tom. Within twenty minutes he was sending me songs to learn. He plays in a band called The Liquors, and they had an upcoming gig at Perlas, a local bar with a small stage in the corner. He suggested that if I could learn 3-4 songs from their set list that I could join them at their show coming up in six days. While it was a kind and generous offer, I was confident I wouldn’t be ready in time; I needed to build my embouchure back and figure out how to make the instrument make decent sound, let alone learning songs to perform. The first two days I couldn’t even get the lowest three notes on the instrument to play! Over the next three days, though, it started sounding a little better, and I wanted something other than scales to practice, so I figured I might as well start with a few of their cover songs. Tom informed me that the band plays all their songs tuned down a half-step (so the vocals are more in range for the singer), so I should make sure to practice them that way. 

On guitar, changing the tune of the instrument is easy; you just adjust the knobs for each string and boom, all the notes are lower. None of the fingerings or chord shapes change. But on the saxophone, there is no way to change the tune of the instrument. So, playing in a different key means playing an entirely different set of notes. It’s not a huge deal, as long as you know what key to be playing in. Luckily I found this Google Chrome extension called Transpose which allows you to listen to a song on YouTube and adjust the pitch of the song up or down. So I had my three songs: Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen, Midnight Rider by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and Hard to Handle by the Black Crowes. Tom tells me that for Midnight Rider, actually I shouldn’t play that one a half-step down because they’re already playing it a half-step down in the recording. If that all sounds a bit confusing to you, it should, because it was confusing to me. But I double-checked everything with him and I understood that I was supposed to practice Midnight Rider as-is and transpose the other two songs down a half step. OK, simple enough. 

A few more days tick by. They invited me to a rehearsal, but I was unable to make it. Now it’s Saturday morning, the morning of the show. I did a practice session at home around 9am and by 10am, I did a run-through of all three songs as if I was performing them (one take, show must go on), and they weren’t terrible, so I messaged Tom saying, “OK I’m not saying 100% yes i’m in yet but Hungry Heart, Midnight Rider, and Hard To Handle are feeling pretty good. What time do you guys go on? 7:30?” Tom reads this as, “He’s in.” He invited me to come by for sound check in the afternoon, which I did. 

When I arrived at the bar’s parking lot, my eyes widened like saucers. This whole time I was expecting the show was going to be on the little stage inside the corner of the bar. Nope. The parking lot was lined with vendor tents. There were a few groups of motorcycle riders mingling. And at the far end of the parking lot was the stage. Well, a Costa Rican stage, meaning it’s actually just the back of an Isuzu construction truck, the type where the walls of the bed of the truck can flip down so it’s just an open, flat surface on the back. And attached to the front of the truck was a giant banner that read CHOROTEGA BIKER FEST. This was no ordinary gig; this was an event!

So that was the stage, and there was Tom and the rest of the band setting up their gear. I hopped up on the truck, we attached a short side mic to one of the regular microphone stands to point into the bell of the saxophone, but we didn’t bother to actually test the sound; the guys weren’t ready for that yet. No biggie, they tell me, now that we have it in the right spot, when I come up on stage they’ll just plug it in and crank it. Sounds like a rock ‘n roll plan to me. Before I leave, they tell me their first set is at 8 and their second set will be at 9, and I’m in the second set. 

When I got back home and told Kristyn and my two other roommates that it was now confirmed that I’d definitely be playing in this show tonight, they asked me how I felt about it. Was I nervous, excited…? I replied, “I’m mostly really excited. It’s going to be a pretty big audience! The only thing I’m nervous about is that I didn’t rehearse with them, so I hope I’ve practiced everything in the right key. I might squeak a few notes, or I might lose my place for a few bars, but as long as I practiced in the right key, everything should be fine.” 

I went back to the venue for the start of the first set, and I watched as 200 leather-clad Harley riders hung out and enjoyed the tunes. As the second set started, I ducked behind the truck, er, I mean stage, to start warming up. Three songs later I heard the lead singer say, “… and now we’d like to welcome our friend Kevin to the stage.” I climbed up the rickety step ladder and tiptoed my way across the crowded truck bed to my spot. The side mic we were going to use for my sax was gone. 

“Your mic didn’t work,” Tom informs me. “We’ll have you use my mic, and I’ll just share with the other guy.” Not wanting to touch his equipment for fear of feedback or making things worse, I let him lower his mic down to sax height, and then he scooches over to the other mic stand, and without any further delay, they count it off and we launch into Hungry Heart

On the first note I can tell— I’ve practiced the song in the wrong key. Literally every note I’m playing is off. Panic and adrenaline explode inside my body. I sound terrible. I’m making the show worse. After just a few notes I stopped playing. What do I do? I can’t play as I’ve practiced, that’ll just make things worse. Do I just sit up here and not play for the whole song? Awkward! I turned the bell of the horn away from the mic and listened to the band as I quietly plunked around the notes, trying to find the right key. I discover they are playing it an additional half step down from what I was told. With this discovery, I was able to play along a few basic notes without making the band sound worse, but I definitely couldn’t play any of the licks or solo I’d practiced. It was about as rocky of a start as I could have imagined. 

I’m not a very religious person, but I know there must be a God, because eventually that song did end. And when it was over, nearly every fiber in my being wanted to get off that stage. Not because I was embarrassed or ashamed or hating my life, but because I was quite confident that the next two songs I was about to play were also going to be in the wrong key. Why would I subject myself and the audience to that trauma? 

The next song, however, was going to be Midnight Rider, and this was the one that Tom had told me to practice just like the recording. So, I thought, there’s a chance I’ve practiced this one correctly. Before we started, I had the idea to turn my horn to the side and play the first lick of the tune so that the other band members could hear. The lead guitarist looked right at me and said, “That’s it!” With that tiny confidence boost, I barreled through my internal flight response and played Midnight Rider

Everything was going great, for the first twenty seconds or so. Remember how the “stage” was actually the back of a construction vehicle? One thing vehicles have that actual stages do not is a suspension. Shocks. A little bit of intentional bounce. As we were rocking out on stage, the “floor” was moving around, and because we had adjusted the mic stand quickly to be at sax height, it wasn’t tightened down all the way. So every twenty seconds or so, my microphone boom would start to swivel away from me. I’d have to take a short break from playing to swivel it back into position. It effectively meant the audience (and the band) couldn’t hear me for most of the song. It also meant that I was so distracted that when the time came for my solo break in the song, I was totally lost. I didn’t solo. I just humdrum played along like it was the chorus. It wasn’t nails on a chalkboard, but it most certainly wasn’t spectacular nor was it how the song was supposed to go.

0 for 2. I’m sweating. I’m imagining the guys in the band are all thinking, “Why did we invite this chump to play with us?” I know I’m tanking this opportunity. Again, the impulse to flee spikes. Who’s to say that this song is going to be in the key I practiced in? But again, I do my trick of swinging to the side and playing the first few notes of Hard to Handle so only the band can hear, and once again, the guitarist validates that yes, I do have the right notes. A glimmer of hope. With that fragment of relief, I have the presence of mind to tighten the mic stand to keep my mic in position. I do this with some trepidation, as I know that messing with live equipment can cause feedback, shit can fall, break… all sorts of badness can happen when you try to tinker with stuff during a performance. But I went for it, and it seemed to cinch down nicely. 

The third and last song I played that night absolutely crushed. At least that’s how it felt to me. I hit all the right notes. My mic stayed in place. I looked out into the audience at my roommate, Nate, who had been giving me fairly neutral body language during the first two songs (the fact that he wasn’t grimacing felt generous). But when I made eyes with him 15 seconds into this song, he pumped both fists over his head and gave a huge “HELL YEAH!” which gave me a giant confidence surge that this, finally, was how I was supposed to sound. When it came time for the sax solo, I went for it and it felt incredible. I ended the song with a squealing high note and a flourishing cadenza. 

I started the show feeling like a nervous child. I ended the performance feeling like a rock star. 

Despite the suboptimal performance, I walked away from the experience with not only the thrill of being on stage, but I also got a bonus gift; once we were done playing, other musicians approached me. “Hey, you were the sax guy, right?” A pair of these were Costa Rican musicians who got my number to set up a time to play together. It felt like such a gift to make a new connection in this way–based on my musical performance and a joint interest in playing more music. 

Playing on the back of a truck at the Chorotega Biker Fest



A few days later, I got a message from Ely, a Costa Rican singer and guitar player. She wanted me to come play music at her house with her boyfriend and fellow musician, Pedro. I was delighted to accept the invitation. 

Now, this wasn’t technically my first musical encounter with a Costa Rican, because I’d hopped on to the cajon at a house party alongside a Tico marimba player a few months ago. One week after that, I swooped in on the cajon again with a band playing at Potrero Brewing. Here is what I wrote about those experiences. 


Cajon at a House Party

The party was mostly what I expected, except for the addition of a huge contingency of Ticos that live in a nearby town! The party hosts have done a commendable job of expanding their social network beyond the expat community. It was such a delight to have a diverse mix of people at a shindig.

As the afternoon shifted to evening, a few of the locals set up a few instruments: a guitar, a box drum, an indented metal cylinder (a guiro?), and a marimba! Two guys started playing a song on the marimba and guitar. Then a kid picked up the guiro and started banging it around.

I happened to be standing next to the box drum, which was just sitting there, begging for someone to play it. It’s one of those moments in life where you feel like you’re at a crossroads, a decision point, a moment of palpable choice. Blue pill or red pill? Do I just sit back and enjoy the music as it is? Surely that path was the safe one. Or, do I act on my intuition, the inner pull of the musician in me that could already hear the box drum beat no one was playing? But what if I’m viewed as trying to steal their show? What will people think? What if I screw up the beat?! I can feel my heart rate increase now as I type these words and relive the feeling of that moment.

The thought that arose and pushed me over the edge was, “This is why you’re here.” I was the one standing there. I was the one with the set of life conditions that allowed me to know what to do with drum. I felt the pull for a reason. The only thing stopping the pull was fear.

It turned out great and the drum added a nice bassy kick to round out the sound. Even though my Spanish is still regrettably poor, I was able to connect with these guys through the language of music. Perhaps others at that gathering felt a little closer to each other, too. I love the uniting force that music can be, if we can only find the courage to play with others.

Hopping on the cajon at a house party (my swimsuit was wet so I sat next to it :D)

Cajon with Lucidus at Potrero Brewing

I was back at it on the box drum last night at Potrero Brewing. 

The gents of Lucidus had a nice acoustic setup at the brewery, playing a mix of covers in English and in Spanish. They played one song where both guys were playing guitar, so no one was on percussion. After it ended, I mentioned that if they had any other songs in their set where they were both playing guitar, I’d be happy to hop in on drum. The singer, also Kevin, showed me his set list and I told him which of those songs I knew. As soon as I said “Paint It, Black,” they both looked at each other and said, “That’s the one!”

Grateful for their openness to have a guest musician hop in and contribute to the vibe.

Cajon with Lucidus at Potrero Brewing

But this felt different. I wasn’t pushing myself into an opportunity. I was being invited

We had a great time playing a combination of Latin music and “gringo” music. I learned how much better group practice sessions are if I’m familiar with the songs. Not necessarily even having the chance to practice them ahead of time, but just to be familiar with the song: where the verses start and end, what the bridge sounds like, if there are any rests, and so on. They had sent me a few songs ahead of time, which I had listened to and practiced. When we played those together, they instantly sounded great. Fist bumps all around. 

It was also super fun to play with them because their whole living room is set up as a permanent music station, with a drum set, a keyboard, and several guitars and amps. One of my favorite bands is Walk Off The Earth, and part of why I love them is that the musicians in that group play several instruments, sometimes even during the same song. Jamming at Ely’s made me feel a little like I got to live out my Walk Off The Earth-style fantasy of playing multiple instruments in one band; I played drums while we played Zombie by The Cranberries, and I played keyboard on a few Latin tunes I wasn’t familiar with. 

Above all, I just felt honored to have the rich experience of making some music with people I’d just met, with people who’ve lived in this country their whole lives. 



Then, just two days ago, I get texts from three different people telling me about an Open Mic Night that’s getting reignited at another local bar and restaurant called The Shack. “I should come,” these people said. I was excited to go check it out, and my plan was, although I’d bring my sax just in case, I would just come to watch, to learn how the whole open mic thing works. I know at karaoke, you put your name and your song on the list, and then when it’s your turn, you go up and sing. But how does an open mic night work? 

I arrived and saw another new friend, Zach Harvey, playing a couple songs with a band. The venue was packed; it’s basically a backyard-style setup, a fenced-in area with a bunch of picnic tables, a firepit, and one corner of the space is the stage. All the tables were full (except for the one closest to the band which only had three older women sitting at it), and there were tons of people standing. I found my friend Tom, who told me his group had already played earlier in the night. 

We were shooting the breeze until Zach started playing his last song, which was Hard to Handle–the same song I’d ended with at the Biker Fest! Tom and I immediately looked at each other and he goes, “Did you bring your sax? (Yes.) You should run to your truck right now and go walk up to that extra mic like a boss and just start playing!” Once again, with Tom’s encouragement, I go get my sax. Where to set it up? I knew I wasn’t going to actually hop in with these guys mid-song, especially since the song would be mostly over by the time my sax was put together, but with the nudge from Tom I was spirited enough to get set up and eventually get up on the mic. I scanned the packed backyard, and I only saw one viable spot to set up my sax–the front-and-center picnic table with the three older ladies at it. 

I could feel my heart rate increase as I approached the table with my instrument case, asking the ladies if I could join them. As I opened the case and started assembling the saxophone (Hard to Handle still being performed), even though I was facing the band and my back was facing the audience, I could feel hundreds of eyeballs shift from the band to me, watching me piece together the sax with trembling, shaky hands. 

Zach finished the song, and as he left the stage, I saw the all-powerful clipboard that dictated who would be coming on stage next. With the prodding of the women at my table, I went up and put my name and a couple of songs at the bottom of the list. I was in no hurry to get up there. In fact, one prominent thought I was having was, “I’d be totally fine if we run out of time before they get to me.” So I sat at that picnic table with my sax assembled, resting on top of my case, while I enjoyed the music and got to know the ladies at my table. 

Over the next few songs, something unexpected happened. One guy came up to me and said, “You gotta get up there!” Then, in between songs, one of the guys from the house band approached and said, “You know you can come up whenever you want.” I replied telling him I’d never been here before, so I didn’t know the protocol, and also that I’m a beginner and didn’t want to make them sound worse (ha). I told him that if they were playing a song that I knew, I’d join them (which was a perfect ruse because I don’t really know how to play any songs!). But then, after the next musician was done, one guy from the audience yells out so that everyone can hear, “Does anyone here have a saxophone? Do you know anyone that has a sax?” Several others chime in with cheers like “We want the sax guy!” My palms start sweating. I’m laughing a laugh that’s both genuine and anxious.

The leader of the house band observes the audience’s demands, comes over to me, and goes, “Let’s get you up here. What songs did you write on the list?” “Low Rider,” I reply, which I specifically said first because it’s an easy song that I was most comfortable with. “We’ve already played it,” he answers. Damnit. The one other song I’ve practiced a decent amount is Smooth by Santana. “How about Smooth?” I say. I see intrigue move across his face. “Let’s do it,” he says as he walks back up to the stage. 

As we’re getting set up, which includes me firmly securing my mic stand in front of me, I ask the band, “Who’s going to sing this one?” and they all confirmed that none of them were going to sing it. The main singer’s voice was starting to give out. OK, so somehow we’ll just play an instrumental version. Cool. So we start out, and we’re playing the main riff, and they look over at me like I’m supposed to solo. So I give it a little something, but… then what? The song wasn’t going anywhere. We weren’t progressing through the changes in the song. Someone needed to sing. I was starting to panic. Here I am at my first open mic and we’re doing the song that I picked and it’s not going well. There goes my chances of ever playing music in Costa Rica again. I’m doomed. 

Just then, like a rock and roll angel swooping down from Heaven, the singer from the band Tom is in, The Liquors, comes up to the stage and asks, “Do you guys want me to sing this?” to which I immediately remove the sax from my mouth to reply “Hell f***ing yes we do!” With the vocalist on stage, we start over. The song shreds. People are dancing. Everyone in the band nails the groove. Total success. 

Grooving to “Smooth”

What happens next, I’m wondering. Do I get to pick the next 1-2 songs as well? Seemed like that’s what others were doing. Nope. Kevin, the singer, looks over at me and goes, “Hey do you know ____?” I can’t tell you what song he said, because it was a song I didn’t know. I replied, “No sir!” And he goes, “Well let’s just play it anyway.” And within 15 seconds the band fires up a song that, in listening to it, I did have a vague familiarity with, but I still can’t tell you the title or the artist.

Panic, my new friend, arrives again. Here I am in front of 100 people with a band playing a song I don’t know. I don’t even have a tablet with one of those handy little tablet holders all the musicians have so I can pull up the song and the chords and play along that way. I just have to listen and feel it out. Thankfully, the song had one main bass line that runs through most of the song, so I was able to play along with that and add the flavor of sax to the overall sound. It brought me back to my days of high school jazz band where I first learned to improvise. I’m confident that without that early training I would’ve crashed and burned at this moment. 

And just like that, it was 10pm. Time to shut down Open Mic Night. But wait. All of a sudden an older guy from the corner of the backyard, the guy that had yelled out, “Does anyone know someone who plays sax?” goes, “Wait just a minute. We’ve got a sax guy here. We can’t have a sax guy and not play Stand By Me.” Then he looks over to me and goes, “Do you know Stand By Me?” to which I reply, “Well I kinda know the song, but no, I’ve never played it on sax.” And he smiles, looks right in my eyes, puts his hand on my shoulder, and goes, “You’ll do great.” 

Before the song starts, I took a quick look at my phone to find the main chords, and I turned my back to the audience to plunk out a few notes to get my bearings. We start playing and it goes swimmingly. I played a wrong note here and there, but I was able to hold it together and even muster a solo. 

Solo during “Stand By Me”

Courage is an interesting thing. Without courage, I wouldn’t be able to perform music right now. I strongly feel like I’m not “good enough” to be performing yet. And while some of my courage I believe comes from within me, I know that it was only through the encouragement of others that I was able to burst through my insecurity and fear in order to just get up there and do the damn thing. 



The music is even manifesting in my kids. Last night as I was putting my kids down for nighttime, the three of us were sitting in the bed with me in the middle, and each kid had their notebook and pen in their lap. They weren’t doodling. We weren’t playing Tic Tac Toe. They each were writing out quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes (aka “mar-ee-pos-ah’s” as learned in a Spanish music classroom), and rests on their notebook paper, and then asking me to sing what they had written. This activity came at zero prompting from me whatsoever. At least, no prompting in the direct sense, but it does make me wonder how much of my around-the-house musicality does get ingested and metabolized by them in some way. 

Music has always been around in our home, and I can feel it growing. One of my kids loves singing along to Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, without missing a word or a note, in our at-home karaoke sessions. The other can hardly ever be seen walking because they mostly dance from room to room. Just tonight one of them was choosing ukulele strumming over television. It’s a next-level kind of joy I feel when I see music coursing through the beings of my children, especially we share in a sing-along or a dance or an instrumental groove or a spontaneously improvised goofy ditty; it’s like an electric, magical resonance that lights up my spirit that’s only accessible by tapping into the vibration of sharing music with my children. 

And now, earlier this week, our bedtime routine has brought us back to music. The kids have been tending to do their bedtime with Kristyn lately, and her protocol includes ending the time by sending the kids to their “Dreamplace.” She essentially guides them in a short meditation until they’re so relaxed they’re either basically asleep or all the way there. But there were a couple nights where Kristyn wasn’t available for bedtime, so it was my turn to put them down. I decided I’d let Dreamplace be Kristyn’s thing, rather than try to recreate her speciality, a fool’s errand. But since the kids have grown accustomed to receiving this unique, relaxing meditation before sleep, I had to think of something I could to provide a similar effect. As I laid in beds with the kids after some quiet playing, I suggested, “how about I sing a few songs?” They agreed. It’s been such a joy to go back to the way we’d do bedtime when they were babies and I would sing them to sleep in my arms. It makes me wonder how much their bodies remember being soothed when they hear the melodies of You Are My Sunshine and Home On The Range, but judging by how quickly they relax when I start, I’m guessing it’s at least some.  



And after all that, earlier today I wrote and recorded a song. From the time I sat down to pen the first lyric until the time I finished recording the song, a mere 25 minutes passed by. For perhaps the first time in my life, I felt what it feels like to be in a songwriting flow state.

Earlier in the day, I’d attended my weekly men’s group on Zoom. In the meeting preamble, I mentioned how music was front and center in my life right now. Later, one of the guys told the story of the stressful time he was having while visiting his family of origin, how there’s always so much obligation and pressure in that situation, and that on top of all of that both his father and his dog’s health were not doing so well. When he was done sharing, one of the other guys joked, “Man, that sounds like a sad country song, what with the sick dog and all. Hey, Kevin, you’re a music guy, you should write that song!” We all had a brief chuckle. What the guys didn’t know, though, was that I quickly wrote down all the bullet points of his story that I could remember. Something in me wondered what it would be like to actually try to write that song, and how funny it would be if I actually went through with it. 

When the Zoom call was over, I opened up a fresh document, and the lyrics just flowed out of me. Granted, I wasn’t trying to win a Grammy. The song was meant to be a lighthearted joke. But still, I could feel the phrases come with ease. I had an intention, a theme for the song, a source of inspiration. I also knew that I wanted to write and record it all in one sitting; if I kicked the can down the road, if I let the project wait, I’d likely not finish it. It had to be right then. I knew I was going to record it on my iPhone, and I was going to do it all in one take; I didn’t care how bad the recording sounded, how imperfect it would be, how many little mistakes I’d make. The point wasn’t to make a beautiful song. The point was to make an entire song and get it done. 

In reflection, I believe it was those three ingredients that allowed this song to flow out of me so freely: clear intention/theme, acceptance of imperfection, and a deadline. It feels like such an important download for my future songwriting self to have absorbed, and it all came because I decided to do the hard thing, the unexpected thing, and turn the group’s joke into something real. 

(And in case you’re wondering, the guy in my group received the song very well. He said it, “cracked him up and made me smile so big.”)



I have a shred of regret for discontinuing playing saxophone after college. I told myself the story that I didn’t have time for it, that it wasn’t important, that it wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I allowed myself to believe that certain types of actions are better than others, that starting a successful business or performing well in a lucrative job was what I was supposed to be doing with my life. 

What I see now is that I created a false dichotomy. It actually would have been possible to have a job and play music at the same time. Sure, I might not have been able to play 2-3 gigs per week, but I still could’ve been playing. And it would have brought me a lot of joy. And the music playing may never have materialized into a money-making endeavor, but what I didn’t understand back then was that I don’t have to make a career out of artistic expression in order to enjoy artistic expression. I can do it as time allows. I can do it on my terms. 

And that can be enough.