Music … a gift from generation to generation, soul to soul.
What did Michael Jackson have to do with it? Plenty.

When he was three years old, my grandson Patrick, now 8, was given a child’s violin for his birthday. For another young birthday (when he was five, I think), he was given a guitar. Both gifts were from his parents, who play those same instruments.

This past August, Patrick accepted a request from his aunt and me to play a special birthday song for his mother’s birthday. This is a photograph of him warming up for it:

He’s never had a formal lesson, and his songs tend to be inventive and meandering, but Patrick becomes our Guitar Hero every time he straps on his out-of-tune guitar to sing lyrics we’ve never heard before. His music is charming and most certainly and uniquely “Patrick.”

There were many encore requests at the birthday party and appreciative applause. Even his baby cousin, Alexander, clapped. Which, of course, inspired me to buy Alexander an infant music station for his first birthday. So far, he uses it as a step stool, but I can tell he’s musical, too. Nana knows.

My granddaughter, Natalie, turned three this month.

Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings she and her brother, Nathanial, 3, are typically at our house to play and we are always sure to include Music Time. It began with 15-minute sing-alongs when they were younger, but it has become an expectation that now we all play instruments to accompany our goofy, fun songs.

I play my Irish drum. I’ve been teaching Nathanial to play the Bodrhan, too, and he’s getting fast with the tapper. But we don’t limit anyone to one instrument, and so we tend to pound on everything from the piano to upside down tupperware bowls. We don’t care so much about musical notes or technique as we do about seeing what new sounds we can make. Sometimes we even hit a harmony of sorts … though usually not.

For Natalie’s birthday, we wanted to stage a full-out concert. While her parents usually miss Music Time with Nana and Grandpa, they were present for the party. So we all grabbed an instrument and the party came to life.

Natalie’s mother, Gloria, played the recorder, an Irish flute. We don’t have an authentic or fancy wooden one, but we do have a small plastic round one that came with Nathanial’s toy drum, so she learned to play that on the spot.

Natalie’s father (yes, that makes him my son), Philip, played the harmonica. He would rather listen to music than make it, but he was a good sport and huffed and puffed for his kid’s amusement.

Grandpa Kevin got into the act with a tambourine. Normally he plays the little keyboard attached to a Cayou book, so this was a new skill unveiled to all of us, and we were appropriately amazed.

Nathanial played the drums and then tried out his new harmonica. I think he’s really going to be musical most of his life — he has the sweetest, clearest little voice and he signs perfectly on key. If so, and he wants music lessons later, we’ll encourage it. Meanwhile, it’s all about making sufficient noise to express all of his boyish joy.

No one, however, had more fun than Natalie. She went from drums to piano, laughing aloud the entire time.

If this sweet little girl has learned by the age of three that family time is important and fun — and that music is an integral part of it — then the wear and tear on my beloved piano and our poor dogs’ eardrums has been worth it.

This is It: The MJ tribute film that recently premiered in area theaters.

I hate to mention my precious grandchildren and Michael Jackson in the same paragraph because some of you will take the opportunity to say, “How could you?” and turn this blog (my appreciation for the individual’s musical genius) into something it is not — an endorsement of his lifestyle choices. I don’t even begin to understand what was true and what was not, so I’m not a person to speak to it.

I’m writing about music, and the passion I have for music in my heart and (I hope) the seeds I am helping plant in the souls of my grandchildren. I hope music will be their constant companion in life — that it will lift them up, or help express their sorrow. That it will free them to MOVE with JOY. I hope it will bring them closer to God (as my favorite song, “Sanctus,” on the album Angel Voices — and also “Canon in D” — does for me).

Michael Jackson’s music has also been important to me. His “You are Not Alone” is a long-time favorite, as well as “Thriller” (it WAS thrilling) and “Man in the Mirror.” “Billie Jean.” “Beat It.” I loved them all, and I, like millions of people, was moved by his dance.

I also think the new film release that shows Michael Jackson’s last days working on his production This is It is outstanding, and it is a most fitting tribute to his incredible body of work. The film takes viewers behind the scenes with cameras; we watch as Michael Jackson planned, created and executed the stage/film show, capturing amazing theatrics that pushed the envelope with artists throughout the world. It was rehearsal tape intended for his private library, but it turned out to be an appropriate reminder of the man’s artistry and true musicality and dance genius.

I was most moved by his sensitivity to every note played, to every sound in the room, to every step danced — and his need to make every measure of the music the best experience possible for his audience. However, despite his need for perfection, he treated everyone with great respect and, in turn, was revered for his talent when he took the stage.

The stage shows were selling out. Hundreds of thousands of people would have seen the London production and tour. However, his real legacy is that millions worldwide now will better understand his work and realize that the music really was sacred for Michael Jackson.

This is It doesn’t erase Jackson’s troubled life. It doesn’t take away the shadows or the suspicions or the wrongful acts or the right to hold him accountable to the same legal or moral standards we would anyone else. But it wasn’t the producer’s mission to justify his eccentricities or even to explain him to the audience in any way beyond his music. And in doing that — in connecting all the dots between the man and his music for This is It viewers — director Kenny Ortega was as gifted as his subject. The film most definitely does illuminate the man-boy’s connection to his craft and Michael Jackson’s absolute mastery of stage production. He was the best example of our generation of musical artistry in motion.

That, I believe, makes this film an act of generosity paid forward to generations of musicians to come — my grandchildren among them.

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