October 25, 2005

Music is all in the family

Filed under: Art and About Family — admin @ 3:28 pm

I have always been fascinated by why I am the way I am. What components of my character are cultural or genetic? Why do I act the way I do, like the things I like, and pursue the fields I pursue?

My queries on this subject sometimes focus specifically on how my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. passed on DNA for certain talents, interests, skills and abilities.

Sometimes I focus on my American-ness. I have studied how Americans have gotten to be so American. What portion of our collective personality came over on the Mayflower? Or on a ship through Ellis Island? Or on a slave vessel?

On an individual level, for those of us who are not of Native American descent, can we still find in ourselves a little bit of our ancestral homeland, even multiple generations removed from that geography?

From there, my question gets even broader. If I assert that England is the cultural seed of America, then how did England get to be the way it is? What part of England was Anglo before the influence of the Saxons infiltrated enough to create a hyphenated Anglo-Saxon culture? What part did the Jutes, Franks and Frisians play? And don’t forget the Romans. And the part religion played through the development of Christianity. I can literally take my ponderings back to the beginning of time. (This was my focus as a history major in college, can you tell?)

Having children only bolstered my interest in these topics. As I watch how they develop, I smile when I notice the repeating themes from my side or their dad’s side of the family. Even so, I recently learned that my interest in the past caused me to overlook family history making in the present. The lesson came via my cousin, Kelly.
My cousins on the Engelbrecht side of the family are all quite a bit older than I am. When I was born, most of them were more than a decade ahead of me. My oldest cousin is only a few months younger than my mom. None of my cousins lived in California. I saw them fairly often, but I did not have a real relationship with any of them.

When I was a teen, Kelly moved to Menlo Park and as a local relative, he became a regular at family events and holidays. I am a quiet person and he is a quiet person. He would ask me questions and keep track of what I was up to. As a teen, I didn’t think to ask him anything about himself.

Just as I entered adulthood and was ready to have more of an adult relationship with Kelly, he moved to Vienna where he has been ever since. He’s very faithful about visiting me when he’s in town, but that isn’t very often.

On one such visit, I was delighted to learn that he had an interest in Engelbrecht family history and was actively documenting and archiving as much about the past as he could. That was a major thing to have in common, but it didn’t surprise me because we have several folks in the family with that same interest in questing for our forefathers and foremothers.

But this past Labor Day, he bowled me over when he handed me a CD he had made. It was just a hand-copied version of some songs he said he had recorded with a group of musicians. I inferred that he had written the songs. I asked for no more information and he didn’t give any. After he left, I listened to the title track, “Yesterday Forever,” and thought it was catchy.

I didn’t get back to listening to the entire CD until he sent me the final version in the mail, in a real jewel box with a real booklet with photos, lyrics and credits. I didn’t read any of that, though, before popping the CD in my car player on my way to my daughter’s soccer class. So I was completely caught off guard to hear my cousin’s lyrics sharing some incredibly personal facets of his life story. I felt like he was letting me read his journal and it was very emotional for me. Through his music I was experiencing living history.

After soccer class, I rushed home so I could read the CD booklet. I needed to know more. Who was singing? Who were the musicians? Did Kelly really write the songs? I was stunned to learn that he wrote the music, lyrics, sang and played acoustic guitar on the recording. I was overcome by incredible familial pride and also ashamed that I never knew this musical side of him. We have a lot of musicians in our family. I had never grouped Kelly with them. I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought about the people I come from.

I have opened my eyes to looking for answers in the present, as well as the past. Who knows what clues to my origin lie in others who are walking and breathing and singing in the here and now.

If you’re curious, you can listen to samples of “Yesterday Forever” at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/quininetribe.

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