I found this Ted talk interesting (as most). It dealt with the relationship between ourselves now and ourselves in the future. It is a topic I think about often. We make trade offs all the time between what we would want now and what we will want later. Human beings have a pretty good ability to project into the future. But I am also interested in the relationship and obligation of our future self to who were are now and what that means for our future self.
Let me give an example that plays a big role in my life, to illustrate this. As frequent readers of this blog will know, I had studied music composition in my late teens. I felt that I had a gift for composing. When I started working with computer in 1966 and dealing medical research, I pretty much gave up composing. Over the years, I continued to play piano but more as something to relax me.
I joined Intel in 1984 and until 1988 and was based at the Oregon Facility. In 1998, my wife was accepted into a Ph.d program at Stanford. Intel kindly relocated us to Palo Alto and I worked out of the Santa Clara campus (which certainly had very positive consequence for my career at Intel). I decided to take piano lessons again and found a teacher named Glenn Spencer who thought Jazz Piano.
Glenn was a good teacher and very interesting man who sadly died too young from cancer. Glenn was the founder and leader of a Midi user group called Musig. Midi is a software protocol that was first developed in 1982 and is still used today to transfer information between electronic music instruments, computers and other devices. I got interested in Midi and joined Musig. I started learning about the capabilities of Midi. I bought an electronic piano that had some programmable features. Musiq had periodic lectures from companies that were developing Midi products. One of these companies was OpCode and it a leading company in Midi software. It had one of the best if not the best Sequencer called Studio Vision. A Sequencer is like a word processor for music. When OpCode started up, most Sequencers were special purpose hardware. Personal computers were just starting up. OpCode developed products for the Mac. I was amazed when I saw Vision demonstrated by someone from OpCode at one of the meetings. I understood how powerful the combination of an electronic keyboard, and a synthesizer where. Synthesizers were around since the 60s when Robert Moog introduced the first commercially available product. The synthesizer did just that, it synthesized sounds of musical instruments. Later, sampled sounds would be used.
A whole new world of technology related to music opened up for me. It was very exciting. I wanted to get involved. I also thought that there was an opportunity for Intel to develop some technology that would allow the actual product of the musical sounds to be done in software. You can read a bit about that part of the story here. I organized a meeting with the CEO of OpCode, Chris Halaby (who is strange not mentioned in the Wikipedia article about OpCode). I had a number of discussion with Chris and eventually he asked me to join the board of OpCode which I did in an individual capacity and not in my role as VP Corp, Development at Intel. I bought a Mac to run the companies software. I got a really good synthesizer/sampler from Roland which was one of the leading companies in midi hardware. And there I was with what was pretty much a music studio in my home office. I first used it to recording my playing so that I could improve my piano skills. But one day something I did not expect happened. I began to compose music again.
I knew I had a talent for composing. It came to me naturally. My friend Rich Falvey had thought me the basics of music theory one afternoon and I wrote my first piece a few days later. I was 15 years old and never played a musical instrument. I started to learn the piano but only so that I could play the pieces of music I was writing. I never thought I would be a pianist but over the years my piano skills developed. But there I was again in my mid 40s, writing music. Now I had amazing tools to capture my compositions. I could compose at the keyboard, edit on the computer and orchestrate. I began to write complex orchestral music. In my teens, I just wrote for the piano or for small combinations of instruments and singers. It was all that I could hear in my head and I had no other way to hear it performed unless I could get musicians together. There seemed to be no limits. I could experiment with my music change the instruments, the tempo and even create new sounds.
I would stay up late at night with ear phones on my head and write music. I began to work on one piece in particular that had a very powerful effect on me. I found it overwhelming. It was not so much that I was impressed with myself for being able to create this music but it was more that I was actually overcome by the beauty of it. But I was also suffering. I really needed to spend long amounts of time and concentration to work on this piece. But I did not have that time. I had a very demanding and exciting job at Intel and a family I loved very much. So I made a decision. I decided to stop composing. But I also made a promise. I promised myself of the future that one day when I had achieved my professional and financial goals, I would come back to composing.
So here I am with this promise I made to myself of the past some twenty years ago. have even greater tools to work with. I have kept up on music technology. I play the piano a lot. I am still improving and take lessons in jazz piano and theory. But I would not be here today, comfortably retired since my mid 50s, if it was not for the efforts I made in my 40s. I have yet kept that promise. I think I know why. What if I find out that I am not longer capable of composing with the skills and talent of that 40 year old me. What if I find out that I am not capable of keeping the promise.
There is really only one way to find out, isn’t there…
Thank you for writing down your remembrances of Glenn. I took lessons from him in the early 1990’s. I have fond (and sometimes contentious) memories of him. I, too, had to put aside my passion for music because at the time my son was 3 years old, and my tech career was demanding. But I vowed to myself that I would come back to it. Now my son is grown and I am pursuing my passion for jazz more and more. If you can recommend a good jazz teacher…