"Ees naht a TUBA!"

Just yesterday, my friend Rey was telling me how much he enjoyed anecdotes of the past. I once began a tale of my past on this blog that took five days to complete. Economy of words is one of my biggest weaknesses as a writer, despite a recent seminar I took through my job dealing with just that problem. Those posts were longer than I'd planned, and a bit of a departure from games and movies and television, my usual topics of choice. I have found posts like this one by TheWriteJerry somewhat inspirational though. Jerry hasn't been well lately, although he's slowly getting there. I'd ask that you keep him in your prayers and/or thoughts. In the meantime, I plan to once more take a similar detour down memory lane, and a rare tooting of my own horn. You have my apologies for the preceding pun as well as the following post.

In third grade, EVERY student in my school was handed a recorder, a shrill plastic instrument similar in principle to a flute or a clarinet, but greatly simplified. Parents delighted in hearing out-of-tune renditions of such classics as ”Hot Cross Buns” at various concerts in the gymnasium. I was not sorry to be done with the thing by the end of the school year and I haven't touched it since, though I still have it. Some of the students were asked by the music teacher to look at a list of real instruments and consider joining the band in fourth grade. When I was approached I didn't actually say I wanted to play, since I had hated the recorder, but I did recognize the words ”Baritone Horn” as something my father played, and told my teacher as much. The teacher recognized my name as well, having been an appreciative customer of my father's back when he still had his own garage. Next thing I knew, I had a Baritone Horn and was signed up to be in the band the following year.

I never knew my paternal grandfather, but my dad does have one framed photo one of his sisters came across from an old newspaper article about one of the old-time Italian bands on Long Island which features my grandfather and his Baritone. My father himself played in high school but gave up shortly thereafter. His parents were supporting four daughters and a son with a lunch wagon and a small convenience store, and tales of my dad and some of his sisters “eating the profits” are legendary. So my dad took some mechanical classes and learned a trade to help out around the house. Twenty some-odd years later, on their first wedding anniversary, my mom surprised him with a Baritone Horn, having seen old yearbook photos and deciding it would be a good gift. And so it was that growing up I was familiar with the sounds of a brass instrument wafting up from my basement.

My mom was a pretty good pianist in her youth and one of my dad's sisters is a Clarinet player, so music is definitely in my family. The first two years I played were difficult though, and I often wanted to give up. But my dad kept at me to practice even when my inability to play some more challenging passages pushed me to tears. By sixth grade it was coming more naturally, and I began taking private lessons from an excellent teacher, an Italian master of all brass instruments. He broke things down simply, taking difficult strains and showing me the mathematical breakdown with exercises consisting of one note. Once I had the rhythm down, I was then ready to see it applied in actual melodies. Soon I was tackling more challenging rhythms such as syncopation. My teacher recommended I learn the trombone as well, and in addition to the regular band I was active for three years in a jazz ensemble. Additionally, I played in my teacher’s Italian band at local feasts, and my dad was able to get me into the fire department marching band that he was in.

In addition to the bands I was in, each year I entered a competition sponsored by the New York State School Music Association, or NYSSMA. NYSSMA consisted of auditioning before a judge who would ask the musician to play three scales, a prepared solo, and a few lines of ”sight reading” (playing something for the first time without having rehearsed it). The grade received would determine whether that musician was chosen to perform as part of an all-county band in a concert held at a local university. Through my teacher's guidance and my parent's support, I managed to qualify for eight consecutive concerts. When I was a high school senior the stakes were higher, and the level solo I played not only required performing with a piano accompaniment, but a high enough grade would earn me a spot in an All State band featuring the best young musicians in New York. I was very nervous the day of my audition, and had a hard time finding which room I was supposed to be in at the school that was hosting that year. Late and winded, I was off to a rocky start with the judge but recovered enough to score a 92 out of a possible 100. Sadly, this was not high enough to qualify for All-State and remains one of my greatest failures. I had looked forward to it not only as the pinnacle of my musical career, but to potentially be reunited with a talented girl I'd had a crush on in band in eighth grade and had not seen since being sent to a different high school.

Senior year was not without consolation prizes, however. In addition to being elected president of the band, I performed a solo at my last concert, accompanied by the band. I was very nervous and to this day won't watch the video for the one or two notes that I know were wrong even though the audience didn't notice. Though I didn't make All-state, I did play in the All-county concert for the eighth and final time. All-state itself was canceled due to a blizzard that year, so I didn't miss anything. And by the end of the school year, I'd received the fortuitous news that I had made the pep band at the college I would be attending, which included a scholarship that paid HALF my tuition.

Music is a wonderful and joyous thing. It's opened many doors in my life, and to this day I'm still active in a a variety of marching, concert and Italian bands. I don't practice as often as I should or as my dad would like, but it seems to come naturally to me and is one of the few things in life I don't find to be a struggle. I guess that's to be expected after twenty years of doing anything. Hopefully I'll reach that level with my day job someday. For now, I don't plan on quitting either one.


Blogger TheWriteJerry said...

Thnaks for the kind thoughts, words and prayers, MCF -- and everyone else here who read about my current trouble and who offer up prayers and well wishes. I'm on the mend. More at the edge of the woods than in the center, but still seeing a few too many trees.

11/18/2004 11:35 AM  

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