Musicians

Somewhere in West Florida. A hot, humid night. An outdoor concert. There are people on a large grassy lawn, cross-legged on blankets. The stars are out. So are the crickets.

I am onstage. Our band is playing “Still the One” because my wife is sitting in the front row.

“Still the one, that makes me strong,
“Still the one, I wanna bring along,
“We’re still havin’ fun, and you’re still the one…”

There is a five-year-old girl in the audience, dancing the Floss. The girl teaches me this dance. I try to follow her. It’s not pretty. I have never looked more Baptist than I do when attempting to dance the Floss.

Long before I started writing, I worked almost every job there was. I worked construction, retail, food service, landscaping, and once—this is hard to admit—I dug ditches.

My official job title was “lead culvert installation supervisor.” I made that title up myself.

But no matter what my job, after I clocked out, I would play music for money at local establishments with friends.

In my life, I have played piano in a gazillion joints with various bands, for all occasions. We’ve played skating rinks, weddings, bar mitzvahs, beer joints, churches, and shoe store clearances.

People ask how I started playing piano. And I tell them, it was my ninth birthday. My parents had a small family celebration.

My mother decorated my birthday cake with piano keys—because she knew how much I liked Ray Charles, Ronnie Milsap, and the blonde gal on the Lawrence Welk Show who played ragtime.

After I blew out the candles, my father said, “Wanna go down to the basement?”

That was weird for him say. I hated our basement. It smelled funny down there, and there was a lot of skink poop behind the water heater.

Even so, we went. My father clicked on the light. And I saw it. A piano. I threw my arms around him and nearly cried. I had always wanted a piano.

My father refused to buy lessons. He reasoned that if I wanted to learn to play piano, I would simply have to teach myself.

So, I made up my own exercises, and I learned to play by ear. I had no technique, and I played sloppy. But it wasn’t long before I started playing as a church accompanist, and for choir practice.

My father had never been so proud.

And after he died, it’s funny, all I wanted to do was keep making him proud. Sometimes I practiced piano for five or six hours in the basement until my hands hurt.

I wish I could tell you this was some kind of therapy, but it wasn’t. It was me trying to make a dead man love me.

I started to get better at piano. When I was a teenager, I began playing in bands. And I just never seemed to find a good reason to quit.

When I was a grown man, after I went back to school to get my GED, my life was looking up. Don’t ask me why, but I decided I wanted to go to college to teach music, and say goodbye to blue collar work.

My wife believed in me. So I tried.

But I was rejected from entrance into a major university—which I would rather not name here—called Florida State University and is located on 600 West College Avenue, Tallahassee, Florida, 32306.

I auditioned for the music program. There were maybe fifteen professors in a room who all wore wire-rimmed glasses and smelled like Ultra Strength BENGAY®.

So there I was. A thirty-year-old man with a GED, playing piano by ear for doctors of music. I did an okay job.

Then one of the professors placed an intricate Lizst piece in front of me.

“Play this,” he said.

I hung my head because I knew he’d found me out.

“I can’t read music,” I admitted. “But I’m a very hard worker, sir.”

I could hear gasps from professors. One professor even passed out and had to be revived with defibrillator paddles. The head professor yanked the sheet music from the stand, and that was that.

I shuffled to my truck, tail tucked, and my wife was waiting for me.

She smiled and said, “So? How’d it go?”

“Your husband has a promising career in ditch-digging,” I said.

“What do those idiots know? I still love you.”

“You do?”

“Does a bear play piano in the woods?”

“I’m a failure.”

“Only at loading the dishwasher.”

I have learned a lot since then. Namely, I learned that those professors did me a favor. I learned that sometimes the worst thing that happens to you is actually the best thing in disguise.

I would’ve never started writing, for instance, if those professors had accepted me. You would not be reading this.

I love writing you. You have become very important to me. In fact, in many ways, you saved my life. The same way music did. The same way my friends on stage saved me long ago.

And one day, if I’m lucky enough to see old age, I hope to learn to dance the Floss.

You’re still the one, Jamie.

47 comments

  1. ccgoesdutch - June 11, 2019 7:40 am

    fully agree with you Sean especially since we have met her and you last month in PC; if you send your e-mail address to johncarol@upcmail.nl we can mail you some nice pics; all the best from Rotterdam in the Netherlands from Carol (Steve Cosper’s sister) and john van Peelen xx

    Reply
  2. becky - June 11, 2019 8:38 am

    You never cease to amaze me. I often think you are going to run out of life little moments to write about. But you don’t. You make me good cry about every other day. And I am so grateful for your words. Truly am.

    Reply
  3. Nancy - June 11, 2019 9:51 am

    I am So Very Happy that you never became a music teacher. You were born to write to us and we were born to read your beautiful stories! Have your new Hardback Book on ore-order – can’t wait! Love you, Sean!

    Reply
  4. Jean - June 11, 2019 10:23 am

    I am glad those professors turned you down because it was not the plan and we would not be reading your columns every day. I would sure miss you! I think your dad was proud of you….he just didn’t know exactly how to show or tell you. We’re proud of you!!

    Reply
  5. dragons4me3 - June 11, 2019 10:42 am

    I always wanted to learn the piano. In my 40s the sister I share a mortgage with bought a piano and piano lessons. I tried to learn along with her, but discovered my lifetime of typing my writing had put too much muscle memory in my hands and they refused to translate the music notes to a horizontal strung out keyboard. If they had keyboards like my computer keyboard, maybe… I once planned on college and even had a 4 year scholarship. Unfortunately it was to a university halfway across the country and when I graduated I had no money for a bus ticket, no job, and no home if I didn’t move with my family to their new home. Just as well. My tiny school did not have the counseling or information I needed to even register with the university to enter it. Neither did my impoverished family. I might have gone halfway across the country isolating myself from everybody and everything I knew only to find I had no place at the university. I wanted to be a teacher, then later, a nurse. I have become all those things in my lifetime, all with no college education. Watching my nieces go through college, I am glad I didn’t spend all those years learning things that had nothing to do with my desired career. I worked with college graduates for years who struggled to pay off student loans for an education they could no longer use to earn a living. Life is strange and has taken me through many strange detours, but it has certainly been interesting and educational. But the one lesson I have learned above all others is a simple one. Nothing is more important than love. Looks like you got your Phd in that one. Congratulations.

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  6. Naomi - June 11, 2019 10:57 am

    Sean, believe me, you are living a much better life than a college-educated pianist. I know because I am related to one. We’re friends on FB so I won’t mention his name. He lives in NYC and has played at Carnegie Hall and even in other countries but he has not a happy life. Enough said.

    Reply
  7. Nancy Miller - June 11, 2019 11:24 am

    Every morning now at 6:45 am I take my coffee out on the porch and thank the Lord for my many blessings and then read you. I look forward each day to see what is on your mind. The Lord has blessed you and me with your words. Thank you!!!!!
    P.s. yes….I am a Baptistnwith a good sense of humor 😄

    Reply
  8. Grace - June 11, 2019 11:35 am

    You’re on your best path. But those professors missed polishing a gem!

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  9. Joe Patterson - June 11, 2019 12:40 pm

    Thanks again ain’t no quit in you either

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  10. Brenda Norton - June 11, 2019 1:13 pm

    I enjoy your emails every morning so much.

    Reply
  11. mfontaine2017 - June 11, 2019 2:02 pm

    Aww man, That blone ragtime playing gal on Lawrence Welke was my all time favorite! Thanks for the memories.

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  12. Carol - June 11, 2019 2:06 pm

    And Your still the Best!! I know you know it by now , but if you don’t , you should! Your somebody and everybody knows your name!!
    I bet very few know thoes piano teachers names and don’t read them everyday and smile and cry with them everyday!!
    So forget about them , most of thoes that knew them have!!
    And every one that knows you , won’t forget you and wake up every day to read or listen to you !!
    Your The One Sean!!
    Love ya!

    Reply
  13. Shelton A. - June 11, 2019 2:09 pm

    You’d better say Jamie’s the one…I don’t want to read your obituary. Nice story (FSU-boo, hiss). Better ending-you are the man, Sean!

    Reply
  14. Johnny Wheeler - June 11, 2019 2:21 pm

    It was Jo Ann Castle! Know why Baptists don’t make love standing up? They are afraid someone might see them and think they are dancing! 😁

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    • Connie - July 13, 2019 3:01 pm

      My dad used to tell this joke! Thanks for the reminder.

      Reply
  15. Jones - June 11, 2019 2:47 pm

    👍👍

    Reply
  16. Connie Havard Ryland - June 11, 2019 2:53 pm

    I’ve always believed that how we respond to, and recover from, bad things is what shapes us into who we are. You did good. I’m thankful every time I open my email that you decided to write. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  17. Brenda - June 11, 2019 3:09 pm

    Beautiful

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    • Brenda Gipson - June 11, 2019 5:17 pm

      So beautiful it cannot be described!

      Reply
  18. Judy - June 11, 2019 3:51 pm

    “sometimes the worst thing that happens to you is actually the best thing in disguise.”
    There is so much truth in that statement. Press on – because you are doing exactly the best thing you could want to do – write. So many of us look for your story each day. Thank you.

    Reply
  19. Lois Oleson - June 11, 2019 3:53 pm

    Playing the piano by ear is a God given gift! Play on Sean!

    Reply
  20. Linda Moon - June 11, 2019 4:01 pm

    What a visual: a Baptist doing the Floss! My mother’s piano was custom-cut to fit into a small room in a small house. One entire bass octave and one treble octave – two sets of keys – were removed. The piano frame was re-built to fit the space. My daughter, the pianist from age four, has the piano now. Her son (my ginger-head grandson) now plays my Yamaha piano for hours when he visits. What beautiful sounds he makes! And what beautiful words you make, Sean Dietrich! I hope you and Jamie will be dancing the Floss to “Still the One” into your old age. My One and I are still dancing, in our old age.

    Reply
  21. Tim Fisher - June 11, 2019 4:31 pm

    I am glad you didn’t get into FSU music school. Thanks for using Gods different gift to encourage thousands….thanks for keeping Jamie as the only one.

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  22. Connie Pearson - June 11, 2019 4:33 pm

    I’m one of the very lucky ones who DID get into music school and then became a writer later. However, I’m also WAY too Baptist to do the floss, but my grandson (who’s a Baptist preacher’s kid) can do it like nobody’s business. Go figure. Keep writing, Sean. You get us.

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  23. Janet Mary Lee - June 11, 2019 4:52 pm

    Not much beats one of your stories!! Love Jamie, those pups, your family and fans! Be you!! Love is everything, isn’t it? I thank the Lord you are one of life’s Blessings!!

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  24. throughmyeyesusa - June 11, 2019 6:06 pm

    Shameless bid for reinforcement there Sean?
    Yes. You’re “The One” too! There.
    That’s what every one of your readers thought at the end of that piece!

    You’ve made a good life of a patchwork beginning, honed your skills, and used your God given talents to make the world a better place.
    In a very real way I think you “didn’t” miss out on divinity school the same way you didn’t miss anything by not formally studying music or writing.
    Your writing is like a daily sermon teaching us how God works for the best in our lives, if we only let him, and recognize it. And your stories remind us of the beauty in the human soul. I’ve not been blessed to heat you play or sing, but Im sure your music is equally inspiring.

    “Still The One”, Sean, regards to Jamie.

    Reply
  25. Kathy Coxwell - June 11, 2019 6:59 pm

    I’m happy you didn’t Get into FSU. We wouldn’t have your beautiful prose to enjoy every day if you were banging the worn ivories of some rundown place like The Spot near Marian, AL.
    Kathy Coxwell

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  26. Jack Darnell - June 11, 2019 8:24 pm

    Most of us would give a lot just to know the names of the keys. I had on 50 cent lesson in 1945, it did not take and I can’t play the piano although we have owned 2.
    Got one now in the living room, come on over and play a tune, BUT you must bring Jamie!

    Reply
  27. Dianne - June 11, 2019 8:47 pm

    You are doing exactly what God intended for you to do. Bringing happiness and tears of happiness to so many people. Keep it up!

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  28. Betty - June 11, 2019 9:50 pm

    Bless those idiotic professors. They did us all a favor. I guess I’ll have to google “The Floss” as I’ve never heard of it. Does that make me sound really old?

    Reply
  29. Brian Phillips - June 11, 2019 10:06 pm

    I wish I had listened to my mother and continued piano lessons. I was young and piano lessons interfered with playing in the woods with my friend. Love your stories.

    Reply
  30. Edna B. - June 11, 2019 10:43 pm

    I can’t dance the Floss either. Actually, I’ve never even heard of it. I believe you are right where you are supposed to be. You have a wonderful evening, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  31. Carol Folsom - June 11, 2019 11:15 pm

    Bet you could learn to read music on YouTube. Bet you already play well. I enjoy your blogs.

    Reply
  32. Sharon Homrig - June 12, 2019 1:26 am

    The blond piano player was Joanne Castle. She, along with Liberace, inspired me to play piano. I love reading you, and hope someday to run into you and give you a hug.
    Sharon from Alford

    Reply
  33. Clark - June 12, 2019 12:52 pm

    That’s our song too, Debbie and I. It’s our ringtone for each other on our phones.

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  34. Stephen Scarbrough - June 12, 2019 11:21 pm

    Your daily writing keeps me positive many days when I feel the lowest of low. I too used to practice piano for hours when I was young. I wished I could play by ear instead of just read music. Thank you for today’s column and for every day. Your writing is a treasure to all of us.

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  35. Maxine - June 13, 2019 1:47 pm

    Sean, your father loved you. not many fathers would get a 9 year old boy a piano for his birthday..
    You write, you do musical ‘gigs’ for all kind of organizations and events. You are a winner, we, your readers say so, AND Jamie agrees for sure.

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  36. Anne Trawick - June 13, 2019 10:12 pm

    I love how you love Jamie. And how she loves you back.

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  37. Larry W. - June 15, 2019 7:34 pm

    HAHAHa – Truly, Sean, some things are just not meant to be. But, I would send a crisp $50 to your favorite charity to have been able to have watched you try to dance the FLOSS. Some things are just not meant to be, regardless of your many talents. But keep trying—-and keep on writing.

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  38. Debbie Taylor - June 15, 2019 8:45 pm

    Reading along, enjoying your story then WHAM! I’m ROTFLMAO!! Love to listen to you play the piano and the accordion; and sing and write! Can’t begin to image you doing the Floss😳

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  39. Carolyn - July 12, 2019 11:49 am

    Keeping writing for me. I look forward to my daily ritual – a cup of coffee and savoring your words each morning.

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  40. Dianne - July 12, 2019 1:18 pm

    Thanks, Sean, for writing for me. And as for the floss, just use it between your teeth. See you tomorrow, friend.

    Reply
  41. Lynn - July 12, 2019 1:20 pm

    Wow. Joanne Castle was the blond ragtime pianist. I haven’t thought of her in years. “Still the One” is also “our” song! (46 years) I took piano lessons from 4th grade through 7th grade. As a senior in high school I had a similar audition experience. Fortunately, I’ve always been an excellent sight reader, so I made it into a college music education program and obtained my degree. I spent 31 years teaching, but I never taught music. I ould give up all my training to be able to play by ear. Never be ashamed of such talent!

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  42. Melanie - July 12, 2019 1:42 pm

    I love this….mostly your words, but partly because I am a music teacher and I knew that Jo Ann was that girl on the Lawrence Welk show….and the last time I heard you sing and play, I felt as if I had been to church….so there’s always that….just keep doing what you do. It’s working. ❤

    Reply
  43. Loren - July 12, 2019 6:29 pm

    Thank you for writing. I’m at a point in life where sometimes there doesn’t seem to be much point, or much to look forward to, or that there’s anything valuable left in me to contribute. Then I will happen upon one of your stories, like this one, that makes me think maybe not all is lost. Keep it coming.

    Reply
  44. Joe Patterson - July 14, 2019 8:20 pm

    My brother taught me to dance he had rhythm I had want to we would practice until I got it then go dance with the girls still my best friend

    Reply

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