The beginning of a new year is the traditional time for reflection. Over the past few weeks as I’ve tried to map the year ahead, I’ve come to realize how chance encounters have influenced my life.
A chance encounter with Andy Cohen completely changed my musical path. A high school student, I was his front act at a coffeehouse at St. Anne’s Church in Shrewsbury, MA in the early 70’s. After we each did our sets, Andy took me aside. He had watched me play and perform [pop tunes], and said he could tell I wasn’t singing and playing music I loved. He introduced me to fingerpicking guitar and traditional folk music.
Turns out he was right. A decade later I was making my living performing traditional folk music throughout the US and Canada, recording, and teaching guitar and 5-string banjo to private students.
One of those students was a grammar school student Christina Thompson. Each week for 2 years, I would go to her parents’ home to give her a guitar lesson.
When my family moved out of state, the lessons ended. More than two decades had passed when, last spring, I was going to attend a benefit memorial concert for friend Richard Walton. I noticed the name Christina Thompson Lively on the program. I decided to reintroduce myself.
“Hi,” I said. “I don’t know if you remember me, my name is….” Before I could finish she smiled, gave me a hug and said, “You’re Ed Sweeney! I sing because of you!”
It’s always a challenge for me to figure out how to teach someone to play an instrument: Everyone learns differently. The intuitive connections I make with an instrument are not the same as those made by another person.
I never realized that encouraging Christina to sing would be the lesson I taught. I was speechless. I had an influence on someone by my words!
This past November Tina, a consultant where I work, told me that she had enjoyed my recording Passing Through and wanted to buy my two instrumental Christmas recordings but discovered that each – now more than 20 years old – was out of print.
Don’t worry, I told her. I’ll make you copies.
After the new year, Tina thanked me. It had been a tough holiday season, she said, and my recordings brought them so much joy that they saved Christmas for her and her family.
I am reminded that sometimes, the greatest gifts we give and receive begin as chance encounters.
A few kind words and a little time spent with a stranger changed me as a musician, performer and recording artist. It ignited a never-ending curiosity. Andy’s small act of kindness changed my life.
This past year, I discovered in new ways that my words, actions and music are gifts that are meaningful and appreciated by others – appreciation that is not demonstrated by monetary gain or public prestige.
Kind words and actions have a ripple effect. If you are fortunate, they may touch you in ways you never expected.