Last updated: March 21. 2014 4:36PM - 1119 Views
By Deborah Mitchell Contributing Columnist

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The beauty of having a “milestone” birthday is that I am not alone.

My BFFs hit the same big number and each is celebrating in a big way. Last week, I went to another 60th birthday party, this one for my ex-sister-in-law Vida and her significant other Kerry. Her brother Eric is a fabulous musician and he came into town from Nashville to play a concert for their birthdays.

Vida was married to Max’s brother when Max and I married, and so we have known Eric, although we don’t see him very often, for 30 years. We have stayed in touch, although not as much as I would like. Eric is one of the nicest people I know, as well as one of the most talented.

Vida and Eric’s entire family is gifted in the arts. Their parents founded Camellot Academy, a summer musical theater day camp in Kansas City. Eric plays piano, keyboard, and flute; their brother Bruce, now deceased, spoke five languages and also played harp, cello, and pipe organ. Vida majored in sculpture and is a representational artist, and Gina, their sister, is a real drama queen — she taught theater in Kansas City for years and is now involved in community theater in Palm Springs. Gina’s three sons have a band, The Architects. It isn’t a garage band; they have been on tour since they were in high school and are right now at South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.

While his other siblings looked at their talent as avocations, Eric decided that he wanted to make music his career. He dropped out of college and spent a year practicing the piano in his parents’ basement. Now, I play the piano and I love doing it, but the thought of doing nothing but practicing the piano for a year sends me over the edge. Eric did it though, developing chord progressions and melodies, becoming facile in picking out difficult chords that, when written, look like algebraic formulas.

He moved to Los Angeles with his finely honed skills and began working with Mike Post, who composed the music for lots of hit television shows in the 1980s and 1990s, such as “Hill Street Blues” and “The A Team.” Eric kept composing and studying music.

In the 1980s, Eric produced some albums of “New Wave” music that showed up on NPR as “transition music.” Those albums were equal, in Emily’s eyes, to those of “Helpin’ (Elton) John,” whom she equated to “Helpin’ Eric.” Eric also played with a rock band, “Jack Mack and the Heart Attack;” they performed live a few years ago on a television ice skating special. When I say that he played one song in C# major instead of C, I know that most of you will not understand; however, to do so is simply awe-inspiring. He has played keyboard and flute with Neil Sedaka for years now, and will be appearing with Sedaka later this year in Las Vegas.

Eric moved to Nashville a couple of years ago, finished his degree in composing and now teaches online for the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

Through the years Eric has done something enviable: he has made a living doing what he loves — music. But he has never “made it big,” becoming a household name, which, as far as I’m concerned, is a real tragedy. I think his career lets us know that making it big, in music, sports, or anything requiring ability, is a function of luck as much as talent, or “Who you know is more important that what you know.”

But Eric has made it big with us. On March 1, he and his former Kansas City band, “Sanctuary,” were inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame. And then on March 12, he played piano for two hours. The music, solo piano from his newly released CD, is, as ever, exquisite.

Lest you believe I am too effusive in my praise, you can read about Eric at ericbikales.com, and you can hear his latest CD, entitled “Follow Your Heart.” And as you read and listen, you, too, will believe that Eric Bikales should be a household name.

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