Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Writing A Novel: Music In My Family

My BAND GEEK narrator, Melinda, comes from a very musical family. She plays the flute and her mother is a professional violinist who plays with an orchestra. My own family is quite musical, too. My maternal grandfather played violin and mandolin, which is another type of string instrument. My mom plays piano at a professional level and often performed with me when I was younger.

Musical talent also runs on my dad's side. My dad plays guitar and piano, and though he isn't as skilled as my mom, has a really great ear. He can hear a song and then play it back, chords and all, without ever having seen the music. Meanwhile, my late great uncle (my paternal grandfather's brother), Sid Robin, was a clarinetist, well-known jazz composer and lyricist. He hung around with big-name musicians like Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, was pals with Doris Day, and wrote the lyrics for the big band hit "Undecided." He also wrote the words for Elvis's song "Just Because" and had a small, but memorable singing part in the Ronald Reagan movie, "This Is The Army." About halfway through the movie is a scene where the new Army recruits walk out in their underwear and sing the iconic song, "This Is The Army, Mr. Jones..." My uncle -- a little guy wearing glasses -- sings the opening lines!

I only met my Uncle Sid (nee Sidney Rabinowitz, by the way) twice before he died, once when I was 4 and again, when I was 8. At the time, I wasn't aware of his musical connections, but I enjoyed visiting his home in Los Angeles because he treated me like a princess and had cute animals and a pool. I actually learned how to swim underwater in his pool; my dad coaxed me with Oreos (a trick which would probably still work today!). Sid had an adorable terrier named Lollipop, with whom I was obsessed. I used to insist that she sleep with me and would hold her in bed so she'd stay. Ah, love from 4-year-olds who don't know when to quit...

Sid died when I was 12 and I'm not sure that he ever knew that I grew up to become a flute player. I think it's interesting, though, that he was a musician and a writer (a lyricist). Though I never got to know him very well, I've always treasured the few weeks that I spent at his home and has always been proud of my musical connection to him.

A connection which has come back to haunt me -- in the best possible ways. Twice I've performed "Undecided" in band, once in high school and once in college. A few students thought that I was lying when I shared that the lyricist was my uncle, but seeing Sid's name listed at the top of my sheet music was really cool.

I then had a rather strange experience involving his tunes. It was around 1999 and I had an upcoming business trip to Los Angeles for the Soap Opera Digest Awards. At the time, I was having a panic attack about flying (I get those sometimes, despite the fact that I'm an avid traveler) and really didn't want to go. A few nights before the trip, I couldn't sleep so I turned on our TV ... and This Is The Army was playing. Not only that, I'd come in right at Sid's little part! Then when I was in the air, I tuned in to the in-flight jazz station so I could calm my nerves ... and they were playing "Undecided." I don't know if I necessarily believe in ghosts, but I'm very open-minded about the supernatural. I found it a strange, but cool coincidence that my uncle and his music kept popping up as I headed to L.A. -- a city which I've always associated with him.

When it comes to my own musical abilities, I'm not entirely sure where my talent comes from. I inherited my mom's technical skills, but also have my dad and grandfather's ear... and an instinct to improvise and play jazz like Sid. Whatever, I'm just grateful that I'm able to play and wanted to bring that love for music into my novel. I really wish that Sid had lived a little longer because it would've been fun to jam with him. I often wonder what he would've thought of my CD.

Of course, the band played "Undecided" at our wedding and my family went crazy! It was the perfect way to wrap up my family's connection with music and to bring in a piece of our history. And though Sid couldn't be there, I like to think that in a way he was -- and that he was smiling proudly.

Please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

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