By: Andrew Hill
When I was a teenager my parents gave me the most wonderful gift.
My mom took me to the music store on my 15th birthday, where I picked out a beautiful jet-black, steel-string acoustic guitar. It was used and had some slight wear, but I cradled it in my arms like a newborn, delicately plucking at the strings as if the entire instrument were made of ash.
It was my first real guitar.
But I didn't treasure it. At the end of the day, it was just a thing: an inanimate object incapable of thought or emotion. It didn't hold any real value to me.
But that wasn't the gift. The gift was the concept. This idea that I could create something out of nothing. Something beautiful and unique that didn't exist before. A form of expression, where I could take a thought and turn it into something real, something that others could hear and acknowledge. Something that validated my existence. It's the same basis that some misguided people have used to justify destruction or causing pain to others, but my parents introduced me to a medium that I could use to channel those feelings in a positive, constructive way.
And this idea, this gift that my parents nurtured and supported, remained with me through the best and worst times of my life.
It was there for me through my teenage angst. It comforted me as I was headed off to war, wondering if I'd ever come back. It echoed through the halls of crumbling presidential palaces and rang through the night in war-torn cities, a simple reminder that things could be created as well as destroyed. It was there for me when I came home from war to begin my life anew. And it has remained with me for all of the good and bad times since.
The instrument itself, and what I chose to create with it, changed with the times. Sometimes it was an electric guitar with heavy distortion. I'd imagine myself surrounded by wild and adoring fans as my guitar screamed a solo. Sometimes it was a steel-string acoustic; I'd envision myself plucking folksy tunes for a crowd of new-age hippies at a peace rally. But those were just phases. What ultimately stuck with me were Spanish and classical-influenced melodies woven to life with the mellow, deep-bodied tone of a nylon-string classical guitar. No other guitar or style of music better expressed the thoughts in my head and made me feel at peace.
But the instrument, and the sound it makes, are just tools. It's the premise, the gift my parents gave me, that's important.
I used to feel indignation when my unwilling audience would express annoyance at being subjected to the unsolicited sound of my music.
"Can you go somewhere else? I can't hear the TV."
How dare you! Do you realize what I just did? I took an abstract thought, something that can't even be put into words, and gave it a physical manifestation! I sent electronic impulses from my brain, through my nerves, into my muscles, to this wooden box with strings. The strings vibrated according to my commands, creating physical sound waves that traveled through space and vibrated your eardrums at the precise tone and frequency that I intended. Those sound waves created a physical connection between us, two entirely separate, sentient beings. I created that connection! I did that! Me! It's practically magic...and you want me to leave the room so you can hear the TV?
But those imprudent emotions eventually faded with maturity. As time passed, I cared less and less about who heard my music or what they thought about it.
In the beginning I wanted to play to impress girls. When that didn't work, I played to impress my friends. That didn't work either. Finally, I played just for me, and I've never failed to be mesmerized by my own creations.
It's my way of connecting with myself.
Andrew Hill grew up in the mountains of Northern Arizona, which is at least partly to blame for his life-long love of rugged landscapes, adventure, and all things wondrous.