By Ray West
In Key West, music is always in the air. On a short stroll, you can hear that sweet grain of blues slice through the rhythmic tapestry of reggae, acoustic guitar strains, passionate vocals, country twang, polished jazz tones, and that guy on the sidewalk with a flute and a dog.
With this assortment comes a variety of players.
The life of a musician requires mastering a set of skills unique to our industry. The type of jobs that the majority of us do every day come with a well-documented set of requirements and responsibilities (yes, we see you smiling). As humans, we know it rarely works this succinctly, but we try.
With entertainment, while we can all agree that something is great, we don’t all like the same things.
If your toilet is broken, you call a plumber. If the plumber arrives on time, neatly fixes your problem in a timely manner, and the toilet works just fine, we can generally all agree, good plumber.
If a great opera singer shows up at your party and you answer the door wearing your favorite death metal band’s t-shirt with their name written in an almost illegible font, well, opinions may vary on the opera singer.
Here in Key West, with the wide variety of people standing next to each other in the same room, finding common ground between personal tastes, cultural backgrounds, age, gender and temperament of a crowd is an art in itself.
“I profile audiences by what they’re wearing,” said Michelle Dravis, one of Key West’s leading rock and blues singers, “so if you don’t like what I’m playing, you’ll have to maybe rethink your wardrobe.”
Navigating through this diversity, as well as playing your instrument, listening to your instrument, managing your pedals, giving the song the emotion it calls for, measuring the reaction of the audience, listening to other musicians on stage, reacting to them and trying to communicate something to the person trying to ask you for a song while singing the lyrics to the song you’re playing right now – you see where I’m coming from.
Neuroscientists have learned that playing a musical instrument engages almost every area of the brain at once, especially the visual, audio, and motor cortices, strengthening these areas for use in other situations. While improving problem-solving skills both academically and socially, practicing your instrument also improves the ability to process real-time information from multiple sources at once.
I said all that to say this: Learn to play an instrument. Even if you’ve decided you’re not a musician. From bongos to French horn, from adufo to xylophone, spamjo canjo cigar box
hurdy-gurdy, playing a musical instrument will help keep your brain fired up, your stress relieved and your internal processor connected.
Let’s teach all our children to play instruments. Living in the future seems a lot tougher when it comes to just sorting out junk mail, and a real-time problem-solving skillset can serve us better than a quick course on “Kids, don’t it because it’s bad” — a program that rarely seems to work well.