I saw him as a superhero. He stood six feet tall, a giant in my 8 year-old eyes. My grandfather was the type of man who would stand with dignity, he was the type of man who would instill courage in you just by staring into his eyes.
My grandfather’s name was Blas, an uncommon yet familiar name. He was a musician. He played trombone for the National Symphony of Spain for over thirty years. If you ever saw a man who loved his job more than he loved breathing, it was my grandfather. Because, you see, music is more important than breathing; it is the reason you breathe. When you are blessed with the curse of musicianship, music resonates within you every minute of your life.
At home, Blas walked across the living room to a corner where he kept all his musical instruments. Cones, used to mute the sound of the trombone, resided in fading brown cardboard boxes. He took one out, carefully pondered between three sizes and finally chose to go with his gut feeling. “Okay buddy, here we go,” he warned me. And the magic started.
Blas sat up straight. The expression on his face immediately changed to fit a more serious mood. He closed his eyes for a few moments. I always thought he prayed to the music gods, but in reality all he did was focus. I knew he didn’t take this as a dress rehearsal; he was only playing to an eight year-old audience of one. “The most important audience of all,” he always told me. And even though he played for thousands of people every week, I knew he still got nervous when he played for me. Alas! Finally a sign that he was human. After he sat in silence for a second, he picked up the golden beauty and started playing. My heart would cease to beat, or so I thought. I felt like I was being lifted off the ground.
“Play me something happy. Play me something sad. Play me Pink Panther. Play me Mozart.” I demanded more and more. I became addicted to music at age 8. He would finish playing. Another moment of silence to break the focus, and then he would ask me cheerfully, “How did you like that buddy?” Well, I simply had no words to explain how lucky I felt to have such an amazing person in my life.
Blas treated music like a lover. He never stopped giving her attention. In the afternoons, I would always do my homework. My house would be surrounded by my grandfather’s constant practice.
Blas dialogued with her. He would practice and whenever he didn’t like the way something sounded, he would tell her, “No, no. Don’t play like that. Be subtler. We’re not at the hard part yet.”
Blas fought with her. “This is impossible!” he would yell out to my grandmother. I knew and he knew himself he could do it. At that point in my life I learned that if you wanted something, you had to work for it. And he did. Half an hour later I would listen to him play the ‘impossible’ part.
Blas felt jealous of her. “How is it that musicians cannot express themselves without music?”, he would begrudgingly ask himself. One feels attached to music, unable to speak without its presence.
Blas felt passionate about her. He never, not once, let her go. Every time he played, I saw it in his eyes how everything just turned white. He regained energy. He felt powerful yet vulnerable at the same time.
He was in love.
Years later, my grandfather is no longer by my side to let me know I’m trying my hardest. He left this world just as a musical note often disappears into thin air. He left before I could muster up the courage to make design my practice; to make it my life. Design, like music, is for people who have enough prowess to feel intense moments of unwarranted emotion.
It is full of fear at times. I sometimes just want to leave it. I become entrenched in the thought of not being able to perfect this discipline, of never doing enough. But then, like a whisper coming from my grandfather, the answer arrives. Design is music. We must treat her like a lover, we must talk to her, fight with her, feel jealousy at her restless beauty. But, most of all, we must feel passion for her.
I like to think that my grandfather is the reason I’m here, writing these words to you, asking you to find passion, love, and respect for the practice we call design. When I used to watch my grandfather play, I inadvertently discovered the meaning of it all. It’s happiness. We’re here because we want people to be happy. Isn’t it what design is truly about? We are here to lift people off the ground. Emotions run deep in our pixels.
My grandfather’s passion radiated around every person he had contact with. Every time he played, the room would receive jolts of passion, raw and talented passion. Blas gave me all the instruments to live life with love and commitment. All these qualities he showed to me while playing his trombone.
I still hear my grandfather in blurred out sketches and poorly handwritten notes. He repeats his favourite question to me, allowing me to feel a wave of emotion, at times leading to bouts of tearful memories. It’s in these brief instants where I can trace a fine line between his heart and mine; we both did it to find a reason to love.
I hear the faint voice of a man dedicated to making people’s lives better, albeit briefly, through his art. He doesn’t cease to repeat his question, “Listen to the sound waves, Ricardo. Can you feel them? Listen closely. Feel them rushing through your chest.”