Utne Reader recently posted this article from Peter Buffett, son of billionaire Warren Buffett, on how a single musical experience changed his life. The musician who played that night was William Ackerman, one of the originators of the acoustic guitar New Age music genre (co-founder of Windham Records).
Here is a video of Ackerman, with one of the greatest guitarists to ever pick up the instrument, Michael Hedges, playing "Hawk Circle," a song Ackerman originally performed with pianist George Winston.
It's easy to see how a young aspiring musician might be inspired and transformed by this music. I have included one of Buffett's videos at the bottom - not my style, but not bad music.
Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.
This is a song about transformation. While that may not be readily apparent by listening, it's the story behind it that explains why this is so:
“Butterfly” by Peter Buffett
I grew up in a house with an upright piano. As soon as I could stand tall enough to reach the keys, I would bang out expressions. Thunder on the low keys, rain on top. Soon these turned into little melodies. Or I would use the keyboard to try and decipher the mystery behind what made a good song so good.
I was taking lessons by the time I went into the first grade. But after learning the basics of scales and correct fingering, I started to get frustrated at all those black dots and lines on the page. It was a lot more fun to make things up; to try and capture the ideas I heard in my head.
By the time I was in high school, I was playing four-handed piano with a friend and soon realized that my skills were limited. I just couldn't hear the kinds of things he was hearing. I couldn't seem to sense what complexities lay beneath the simple melodies and harmonic structure that came naturally to me. And while I never really considered that music would be any more than a pleasant diversion, this greater awareness of my limitations sealed the deal.
I went off to college without a clear idea of what would come of it. Taking everything that ended in 101 or -ology, I enjoyed learning a little about a lot of things. But nothing reached in and said, "This is your life!"
I was fortunate to have a little money set aside that allowed me to buy a portable piano and a 4-track reel to reel tape recorder. So I would continue to play and write songs when I wasn't in school. It was also around this time that my continual wish that I could play the guitar came into full bloom. Oh how nice it would be to grab a guitar and head to the beach and play. Somehow, strapping a piano to my back just wasn't an option.
College progressed and there was no clear path in sight.
One night, a friend suggested I come over to his dorm and check out a local guitar player that was coming by to perform. I did, and it changed my life.
Here was someone—William Ackerman, to be specific—who was sitting on the floor playing from his heart. Simple melodies that spoke so much more than any complex chord or harmonic structure could ever do.
I raced home and started to create songs that were both new, and that I knew by heart. From that point forward music would be the driving force in my life. I wish I could say precisely what that moment triggered in me. But I do know that it took every aspect of my life up until that point to make that moment what it was. I couldn't have planned it. And I couldn't have made it happen any sooner. All the experiences and frustrations—smart choices and wrong directions—lead me right to the perfect place.
Since then, I've still always wanted to play the guitar. To be able to sit down and just let my heart speak through the strings. But ultimately, I never had the discipline to learn.
So now, as of the latest download of the latest version of "this really sounds like a guitar," I can sit at the piano and let my hands believe they are holding a guitar and my fingers believe that they are playing the strings.
This song is about the beginning of my journey into a life of music. And the completion of one part I wasn't so sure would ever be possible: to create the sounds I would make if I just sat down with a guitar and free associated as I would if I could really play one.
Like a butterfly, my fingers would light where they would and then move on. I wonder if the butterfly remembers the comfort of its cocoon? And what made it too uncomfortable to stay there? There's the possibility of transformation in each of us. What will it take? Too much discomfort with the old? Or a path as clear as a guitar player playing from his heart?
What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com . Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.