This week we begin our artist interview series where we will explore the role music education plays in the lives of musicians, artists and other successful people over the next 6 weeks. First up in our series is “Captain” Kirk Douglas . Kirk is an accomplished guitarist and vocalist best known for playing with The Roots. You may have seen him playing on the “Tonight Show”, with Jimmy Fallon show where The Roots are the regular house band. He’s also an all around great guy and Brooklyn father. We had a great time chatting with Kirk and we hope you will gain knowledge and inspiration from this interview.
Kirk, what is the earliest memory you have playing an instrument?
My very first memory of playing a musical instrument was with an organ that somehow found its way into our house and then into my room. It had little buttons on the left side that would play chords and I remember playing songs mostly in the key of C because I didn’t have to think too much about changing my fingering to accommodate using the black keys. I was about 7 at the time.
What did you want to grow up to be when you were child?
I undoubtedly wanted to play music.
When did music first “spark” for you? In other words, when did you fall in love with music and/or your instrument?
I remember living on Long Island going to the Smith Haven Mall with my parents and there was a music store called Family Melody. I remember walking in there and being completely enthralled by the electric guitars. I guess it was the same attraction that kids have to cars but when I went to record stores with my dad and saw album covers displaying the band Kiss and I saw them brandishing these instruments, it changed my perception. They looked like superheroes but their powers were less fictitious. The possibility of tapping into these powers through those instruments fascinated my little developing brain. At the same time my older brother would play me a lot of Jackson 5 and seeing these little black kids making these soulful sounds made it that much more attainable.
Did you have important teachers along the way that helped shape your musical exploration? If so, how did they help you?
The teachers that I met along the way played a huge importance and they were many. The first being my dad and mom. My father was playing records all the time and my mom was singing all the time so this was my experience from the moment I was born until I was going off to school. Then came Mrs. Stole. Now Mrs. Kasper. She was my second grade music teacher and she encouraged me to express myself whether it was singing in choir, or singing a song by myself at assemblies, or running around with a kazoo shaped like a trumpet at said assemblies in front of all the parents. I can only imagine this was my idea but the fact that she permitted it and encouraged it had a ridiculous impact. My sixth grade teacher Mr. Rostron exposed us to lyrics in popular Music and taught us about hidden meanings in songs. He dissected the song “American pie” by Don McLean for our class and I was intrigued by how lyrics could serve as a coded language. I also have to mention my guitar teacher Dan McCarthy. It was just so inspiring to sit right in front of someone who had so much ability on the guitar. And we had the same birthday!
How has playing an instrument helped you in your life, besides obviously giving you a hugely successful career? In other words, what are some of the positive “side-effects” you see in your life because of music?
I guess when you base your life around making music you are constantly in search of harmony. You gravitate towards rhythmic dialogue and melodic harmony. Sonically. But I guess a side effect would be trying to create this same sort of dialogue and harmony in my personal relationships i.e. friends, family and random people I meet. Music is very literally a vibration. And a positive vibration can only influence your life in a positive way.
How has playing music influenced you in being a parent and raising children?
Playing music has influenced fatherhood by trying to encourage my children to play an instrument simply because I want to expose them to the joys of it. But my experience in playing instruments prevents me from forcing them to play an instrument they don’t want to play. When they were younger I would sing to them and sometimes I still do. I love taking them to concerts as well because of the obvious thrill. I took my daughter to see Katy Perry last week and it was like the musical equivalent to a ride at Universal Studios. To see them enjoying music at a concert reminds me of my first experiences going to concerts.
Did you ever want to give up playing? How did you move past that?
I can’t say I ever wanted to give up playing. I play music to feel better about myself, about life, just to feel good. I guess there are times in life when music is not the main priority because of health, family emergencies, personal crisis etc. but then music finds a way of creeping back as an unwitting source of healing.
What would your advice be to parents and/or students who play instruments or are thinking about learning to play an instrument?
It’s hard to describe how much fun it is. It’s like flying without leaving the ground. Or like having a little superpower. You have nothing to lose by learning to play an instrument. You only have things to gain. I feel bad when I hear adults say “I wish I learned to play an instrument.” I tell adults it’s not too late but realistically, the time before you have to concern yourself with bills, parenting, your job,and all adult responsibilities are ideal for learning instrument because as you’re a kid you’re pretty much on lockdown. You have way more time! And as for adults I can’t think of a more healthy productive escape from all the trappings of adulthood.
And for all of our 3yr old readers, if you could turn yourself into an instrument, what would you be and why?
And if I could turn myself into an instrument I would have to say I’d want to turn into the drums. Why? Because I’d want to make people dance!
We hope you have enjoyed this interview as much as we have. It you would like to hear some of Kirk’s chops, check it out here.
Be sure to check back next week for our interview with musician, writer, and producer, Ben Sidran.