Piano Mate Beginnings
There it stands: A trainset for brains, electro-magnets for hands, batteries for power and a wood frame that holds? it all together: The Piano Mate.
Loneliness and self discovery motivated its manifestation, and there were things that stirred inside of me that came together for its creation: the musical environment I grew up in, my lack of musical ability, my Christian upbringing, my work with people with disabilities, my bent for electronics and ability to take things apart and figure how they worked.
I couldn't play two handed piano yet. I didn't have the skill, dexterity or knowledge of how to put the music together on my own.
My Christian upbringing was definitely a factor causing my lack of social relationships setting me on journey of self exploration to find out who I was, why God had created me and what my purpose was. Praying the rosary as a family, going to Catholic Mass during the week,
and on Sundays, the way we were raised to adhere to Christian beliefs, all of it contributed to me being different than the kids in my neighborhood and school.
I had a friend, also named Joe, who was a guitarist and he introduced me to blues muisic. I learned to play harmonica because of him. We would sit for hours in his parents apartment or in my basement riffing to twelve bar blues and it was this time spent that I did the ground work developing my chops. I grew up in the sixties and seventies and we recorded our jams on reel to reel tape recorders. I had a revelation of how blues music turned boogie when I played back our music on a faster speed than the speed we had recorded on: same notes, same chord progression, just a different speed, resulted in a completely different sound: this is how blues became boogie. There was definitely a life lesson in that. It was making lemonade out of lemons or seeing the glass half full not half empty.
And then...the kids came into my life. It was the Summer of 1972. I was in a slump and the hot days, lack of friends and nothing to do
was getting me depressed. And then God spoke through my cousin Marie.
"There's this program run by Catholic Charities called Operation Fun.
It's a recreational program for handicapped kids and they need volunteers. Why don't you check it out."
It was that suggestion that opened the door to my working with people with disabilities, a decision that would launch me into a career that would last more than forty years.
On my first day as a volunteer I fed a kid with Cerebral Palsy and it was something I'll never forget. He sat in a wheelchair, his body twisted with Palsy, his head resting on his right shoulder. His wheelchair had a built on table top. There was a small container of apple sauce unopened on the table. I say down next to him and asked if I could help. He said , "Sure." I fed him spoonful by spoonful and it was life changing : I had the realization that I could help someone. Lonely, depressed and different me, could actually help another person.
And after the kid ate he said,
"Thank you! " And he smiled the biggest smile I'd ever seen.
I left Operation Fun that day feeling a worth and value I'd never felt before. And I knew that I wanted to do this, help kids like him. I wanted that as a life choice. And in deciding that , the music that carried the vision of the Mate , God's plan for my Life Mission of working with people with disabilities came together.
(To be continued)
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