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Washington Voices

Front Porch: String of activities ends with guitar

Thu., Nov. 8, 2012

In fourth grade he tried Little League. He didn’t own a baseball, or a glove, or a bat, but none of his brothers had tried it and therein lay its appeal. When you’re the third of four sons, it can be hard to find something all your own. Zachary thought Little League might just be his thing.

He and his dad went shopping and came back with the needed gear. Later that night, his brother Alex took him to the backyard to play catch.

It didn’t go well.

“I’m worried, Mom,” said Alex, gravely. “That kid can’t catch or throw!”

Zach was undeterred. He attended practice faithfully; however he seemed to work harder at spitting sunflower seed shells than upping his batting average.

Zach got hit by a ball during his first game. That did it for him. “Baseball is dangerous!” he said. He was astonished that in spite of his “near death” experience we still made him attend every practice, and his coach had him play every game.

“You guys are trying to get me killed,” he insisted. But we weren’t. We just wanted him to honor his commitment and stick it out for the season.

He did. He earned a couple of trophies, then hung up his cleats for good.

In fifth grade he tried cross country. He loved staying after school for practice and hanging out with his friends. What he didn’t like was running. “Gosh,” he said. “They make you run for miles!”

I’m not sure how that wasn’t clear to him when he signed up. Still, he gave it his best. We’d see him smiling – his skinny arms and legs pumping as he ran the course. But after the season ended he said, “Never again.”

That Christmas, he asked for a guitar. Actually, he begged for a guitar. We sighed. Probably just one more thing he’d try and quickly abandon.

We bought the cheapest guitar we could find but didn’t put it under the tree. Instead we hid it and left a wrapped box of clues for him. Zach’s elation at finding that special present is captured on videotape. His unadulterated joy was worth far more than the price of the flimsily-made guitar.

That spring and summer he took lessons from a minister at our church. I never had to remind him to practice. He’d sequester himself in his room for hours, slowly picking out chords – then melodies.

When we couldn’t afford lessons, Zach kept playing – kept practicing. We bought him a nicer guitar and he tackled Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix. By middle school he was ready for an electric guitar, and at his eighth-grade graduation he rocked the gym with Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”

Zach had found his voice, and as his passion for music grew, so did his dedication. He played on the worship team at church, and when high school rolled around, he joined a band.

Not content with merely playing, he pursued singing, too. He began to write his own songs in the style of his favorite musicians – Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. A true “old soul,” he rolled his eyes at the music of his own generation, skipped the songs of his parents’ generation and embraced the melodies of the ’60’s.

When his band broke up, Zach went solo, performing several shows at The Hop, an all-ages music venue near downtown. This summer he got a job at Pizza Rita to fund his music habit and played at their Night Out Against Crime party in Corbin Park.

On Friday, he marked another new venture when he played at the Avenue West Gallery downtown, for First Friday. His soulful style seemed a perfect complement to the eclectic venue, but I’m hardly an unbiased judge of his talent.

All I know is Zach has stuck with his passion, worked at his craft and is starting to reap the rewards.

But far more important to me is that he’s done this by staying true to who he is. His sensitive spirit and sense of humor shine whether he’s playing in his room or in front of a crowd.

Zach graduates in June. Many roads lie before him – lots of decisions to be made. While his baseball trophies gather dust on his desk, his guitars gleam with a well-cared for shine. Wherever his journey takes him, he’ll be making music. I’ll be listening for it.

Contact Cindy Hval at Her previous columns are available online at columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

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