Livingston Taylor

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A Lesson with Liv

by Dan Boyne, Harvard Magazine

The singer-songwriter Livingston Taylor was artist-in-residence in Lowell House from 2000 through September, participating in House life and meeting with music students to listen, teach, and advise them on what it is to be involved in the creative arts (his artistic affiliation continues). A younger brother of the pop/folk singer James Taylor, he has been a professional musician since 1968, releasing 16 albums and concertizing around the world. Dan Boyne, director of recreational rowing at Harvard's Weld Boat house since 1986, writes songs and plays guitar and sometimes performs at local watering holes. The two men struck a bargain: Boyne would coach Taylor in the art of sculling, and Taylor would teach Boyne about playing and writing music. "Given the relative skill levels in music and rowing," Taylor says, "I made out like a bandit." Here is Boyne's account of their first music lesson, held in the senior common room of Lowell House.

Somehow, I manage to fumble my way through the first chords of a melancholy, slow-moving song about a guy driving back to visit an old girlfriend. It's one of the compositions that I'm really fond of, and one that other people have told me sounds very Tayloresque -- both in its vocals and its chord construction. But now I am so tense and nervous that my fingers refuse to cooperate, and my voice feels weak and quavering. To add to my discomfort, I feel Livingston's eyes upon both me and my guitar, moving back and forth between them like a hawk. No one has ever scrutinized me so intensely. But somehow, by avoiding Livingston's penetrating stare, I make my way through the song.