Children’s Musician Bill Harley Comes to Missoula

By JEN SLAYDEN

Touch one thing and find, it’s part of something else. Try to keep in mind, your part of it yourself. – Bill Harley’s song “Touch One Thing”

When Bonner School principal Ashley Parks found out that Bill Harley was coming to Missoula for a concert, she sprung into action, hoping to lure him out to our side of the mountain to share his talent with students at Bonner.

She succeeded in booking him for an entire day, performing a few different assemblies as well as meeting with three separate grades of students, including my youngest son’s third grade class.

Bill Harley dreamed of being a second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds when he was young.

But unbeknownst to him, the fidgeting and short attention span of his early school years, which caused his teachers to find errands to run for him outside their classroom, actually were just preparation for his life’s calling to become a master storyteller and send messages of inspiration to which every generation resonates.

Bill Harley in Bonner, Montana

He readily admits that he enjoyed seeing how far he could push the teachers before they would get annoyed. He had to keep himself entertained in school somehow!

For years, our family has ridden with Bill Harley seated simultaneously in the front and back of the maxi taxi on road trips back and forth to ski. He was the cathartic voice over the CD player that silenced the sibling squabbling and served as our super nanny on some exhausting drives!

But seeing him in person at Bonner School on Monday, getting to chat with him, and witnessing his natural ability to draw out enthusiasm in both children and adults, I realized what we had been missing not seeing him in person.

When Bill Harley tells a story and sings, he uses every single facial muscle and tonal inflection possible, with hilarious results. Looking over at the young audience, everybody listening was captivated and drawn in.

Bill Harley has written over 500 songs and dozens of books, which he is quick to point out that he is not getting rich from, and has a few gems that he cannot get published because nobody is interested. He spends one hour a day writing, but doesn’t necessarily always enjoy it.

“I have to just do it, so I can do all the other things that I love to do.”

Bill Harley performs at Bonner School.

Fortunately for his fans, we get to benefit from his multi-faceted talents. The once-fidgety child whom the teachers wanted to get OUT of their classroom is now the master storyteller and musician that all the teachers would love to have come INTO their classroom.

I have no doubt Bill’s visit to Bonner School sparked the creativity of several students. His ability to motivate, inspire and encourage everyone makes you realize how important it is to try to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

As I said goodbye, grateful for the chance to meet him after years of enjoying his work, I was thrilled to learn he loves the cello and wants one for his sixtieth birthday in three years.

Bill, there a some really cool sound effects that you can produce on the cello. I hope next time we see you out on our side of the mountain you have a story to go with some cello playing!

If there’s one lesson to learn, it may be this one. Take care with each other. – Bill Harley’s note about the song “Touch One Thing”.

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Enjoy this post by Jen Slayden? You might like some of her other musings on life in Missoula: The Real Snowbirds of Missoula CountyMissoula Moms Test Senator Tester, and MissouLOVE: Things That Make Missoula Home.

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Jen Slayden is a Missoulian who makes her home on the outskirts of town with three outdoorsy kids, a fly-fishing guide husband, and an outdoors-loving black lab named Cody. She juggles her time teaching music, life coaching, playing music in her family bluegrass band, and taking in all the great recreational and cultural activities that Missoula has to offer. Then, she writes about it all on her own website: Find Your Harmony.