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Empty Nest: Doing the Santa Monica schlep

By PAT NASON   |   Nov. 18, 2009 at 2:15 AM
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- (Editor's note: The nest isn't necessarily empty just because the kids leave -- after all, dad's still there, with time and opportunity for pursuits that have been on hold for, let's face it, a generation. This is the latest in a series of reflections.)

It's fun playing music and it feels pretty good when people sit still for it -- even better when they applaud and tell you they like one song or another, or the way you sing.

But when my kids tell me they like my music it's a thrill that's awfully hard to beat.

While they were growing up I was "the enforcer" and I took the job seriously. The truth is, though, I wanted Riley and Lena to think Dad was OK. Sure I wanted them to respect me but I really wanted them to like me. I craved their company and -- no surprise here, I guess -- I still do.

So schlepping to Santa Monica every week for the better part of three months this summer and fall was a two-sided coin. The UnUrban Coffee House was a great place to play and be exposed to other musicians but there were times when it didn't feel quite right.

Sure, the kids are older now and closing in on something like self-sufficiency -- but was I really supposed to be 30 miles from home every Friday night? Aren't dads supposed to sit home Friday, Saturday too, and wait up until the kids are safely back from whatever kind of foolishness they've been up to?

Good thing for me, I guess, the kids encouraged the whole open mic project. My son appreciated Dad was "getting out of his comfort zone" by trying something out of the ordinary.

With my kids' permission, I stayed with it, traveling to Santa Monica week after week and in time UnUrban invited me to play a 30-minute feature set in October.

I had a good four weeks to plan the set, enough time to write and edit my ad libs and think about other ways to make it more interesting than just a guy with a guitar and a handful of songs. What would spice it up, I thought, would be a duet with Lena. As I've mentioned before, she is a very good singer.

She sang in the Hart High School Show Choir for four years and during her third year became something of a standout. Show choir, in case you're unfamiliar with the concept, is a for-credit class that functions like a varsity sport. Choirs sing and dance, typically performing Broadway or movie music, and meet in competition for awards.

The Fox TV series "Glee" presents a sort of heightened, overdramatized take on the show choir culture.

Apart from the music education it provides, show choir can be very broadening for kids. Lena was able to travel to Orlando, Fla., and Honolulu for competitions and interacted with hundreds of other kids her age during her four years in the program.

In the spring of her junior year, she and her friend Emma were chosen to do a specialty spot during a Hart Show Choir concert. They sang "You've Got a Friend in Me" from "Toy Story" and, no fooling, they nailed it. Next thing you know, at the annual banquet, Lena won the award for most improved singer and from there on she had a solo or some kind of featured spot in all the concerts right through the end of her senior year.

OK, so I'm bragging on my daughter. Sue me.

It seemed like a great idea to get Lena to sing with me at UnUrban. But she didn't want to. She wasn't sure if she was ready. I thought she was but I didn't force the issue.

As I write this I can hear Riley playing his ukulele. I'd already asked him if he'd play a song or two with me during the recording session earlier in the year but he passed. I asked him if he'd like to join me at the open mic. He passed again.

It would just be me and my guitar versus the audience. That would have to do.

Next: The UnUrban Experience

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