By Michael Busack
For a moment consider your core memories. There are times, good and bad, that affect the individuals we become. Often the joy or pain of these times are as fresh as when we were living them.
Now pause again.
Consider the role music has played during your memories. Perhaps you remember the song playing on the radio when you first discovered you were going to be a parent. Maybe it’s the song you danced to at your wedding, or the one that makes you weep thinking of a loved ones’ funeral. No matter the shape and weight of the memory, chances are you can connect it to a song.
I grew up in a large extended family. My maternal grandparents had 11 children, and a small army of grandchildren. My grandparents’ house was full of love, laughter, and people! My grandfather, a man of few words, led a simple life. He believed in working hard, having compassion, valuing generosity, and cherishing family. He led with actions, and his example has been the most meaningful inspiration in my life.
Our large family regularly gathered for big dinners with everyone together around the table, and at counter tops, and anywhere else where you could keep a plate of my Memere’s amazing dinner steady. Following the meal my grandfather would quietly head over to his recliner, tired from a long days’ work and full from a great meal. Often he would pull a small case from his pocket. Everyone recognized the cue that Pepere was going to play his harmonica. As a child on his family farm in Canada, he had picked up the harmonica and taught himself to play a million old folk and country western songs by ear. I vividly remember him tapping his feet as he played one of his favorites, Hank Williams’ “On the Bayou.”
The grandchildren had roles too. Some of us would grab pots and spoons to drum, others would slide a finger between two spoons to create a makeshift instrument to beat along. It was simple and admittedly silly, but it was time to spend with our grandfather and experience his passion for music.
When I entered college in 2002, our family noticed that my grandfather’s hands became less steady. The strongest man we’d ever known began to shuffle and shake. He soon was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He fought for a decade as his mind and body slowly declined. Remarkable, however, he continued to play the harmonica until near the end. The musical connections and muscle memory ran so deep for him that though the disease decimated his mind and body, music lived on.
My grandfather died on June 12, 2013. Not a day goes by without him entering my thoughts. Sometimes I still ache from the loss, but usually I’m filled with joy from all the memories of time spent together. And no matter my mood, I can always turn to the songs that filled my childhood moments in the kitchen with my Pepere.
Earlier this month I became the Senior Director of External Relations at South Shore Conservatory. I’m beyond thrilled to use this role to share my story and the stories of many others that demonstrate the powerful impact of music on our lives.