Sunday, November 1, 2009

Musical Memories

There isn't much of a history of musicians in my family. Grandma Carlisle took singing lessons and I'm told she had a beautiful voice that was rarely heard outside of church. My mother took a few piano lessons as a child. She was given a cardboard picture of a keyboard and that is what she had to practice on. There was a large group of children in the class and each was allowed only a few minutes to play on an actual piano each week. It's not surprising that she soon lost interest.

Ta Ta Ti Ti Ta

I have always loved music. One of my earliest memories is of sitting on the kindergarten carpet and chanting ta ta ti ti ta, ti ti, ti ti, ta ta while I banged two red dowels together. Rhythm sticks were my introduction to musical instruments and I wanted more.

50th 51st Use for a Flutophone

My mother's best friend's daughter was several years older than I and when she got a new open hole flute, her older, closed hole flute was lent to me. In this picture I had just turned five. I don't remember her ever giving me lessons nor when or how I learned to read music but I learned how to play. I was never really very good but playing was pure joy for me. Also pictured is my brother with a flutophone that I have no memory of at all.

I don't know how long I had possession of the flute but eventually it was returned. Mom didn't have the money to buy me my own but she was able to buy me a very nice alto recorder. I played it often and was fairly proficient but I never enjoyed playing it nearly as much as the flute. I still have it today though I haven't played it in years.

Next Big Thing

Not being really thrilled with the recorder I talked Mom into buying me a guitar. It was a very basic thing with painful steel strings. Mom signed me up for group lessons at the downtown YWCA and I practiced constantly. When Mom realized that it wasn't a passing fancy for me she bought me a much nicer guitar and somehow found the money to pay for private lessons. The lessons were about fifteen miles away and not on the bus line so she had to drive me to them too. I practiced, I learned, I found joy in my music but I was never really good. I could pick a bit but never managed the difficult classical pieces I so wanted to play.

When I was in middle school some friends and I formed a garage band and had aspirations of being the next big thing. I played mostly rhythm guitar and sang my heart out - even when the rest of the group begged me to stop. Of course our dreams never amounted to anything but I have very fond memories of this chapter of my life. In my head I can still hear my friend playing Stairway to Heaven. What ever happened to him?

Let's March

My troubled teen years found me spending my freshman year of high school living with my father and step-mother in North Carolina. The first day of school I was sent out to the road to catch the bus and go to school. I guess most parents take their child the first day and get them registered or maybe even pre-register them but not my dad. Since the school had no idea I was coming, they hadn't received my records from New York and had to take my word for what classes I should take. So I lied and told them that I'd been in the band and would like to continue.

When I got to my first band class I explained to the band director that I had no instrument but I could play flute or sax, whatever they had. What they had was an alto clarinet.
Now the alto clarinet is not the sexiest of instruments but if the school was willing to provide it I was willing to learn how to play it!

I lugged it home and proudly showed it off to my father and step-mother. My first attempts at playing it were full of squeaks and my step-mother informed me that if I intended to make all that noise I could do so out in the barn. Getting out of the house and being alone was not a punishment to me so I happily spent my practice time there. The pieces I was given were never very challenging so I did ok.

The best thing about the band was that we got to march. There weren't any field shows, just parade march. The band traveled to Wilmington to a parade competition and that was one of the highlights of my high school years.

Last Chair

I only spent the one school year with Dad. When I returned to New York I had to leave the alto clarinet behind. Again, I don't know how Mom managed it, but she bought me a used alto saxophone so that I could continue in band. This school had one of the top rated marching bands in the state and a very demanding practice schedule that I could not meet. So I settled for concert band. The band director was not happy with anyone that didn't march and was very unimpressed with my ability. I sat last chair and knew I always would. There was one other sax player who was very good and he helped me all he could. I knew he was in deep do-do when the director threatened to give him my chair - in front of everybody. That was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. My band experience there was so miserable that I didn't bother to join in my junior and final year of high school. With a full time job I wouldn't have been able to schedule it anyway but it is still one of life's regrets for me; I wish I had stuck with it.

Band Mom

I did pass my love of music on to my children. Both of my sons played trombone and my daughter the trumpet. The two younger ones were in jazz band for a couple of years along with marching band. I became a band mom and I loved going to all of their concerts and parades. The two younger kids had more interest and really excelled. Then disaster struck. John was transferred and we moved. The kids went from attending a small school with a great band director to a huge school where they were just numbers in a chair. The boys never played much after that but even though my daughter was no longer in the band she stuck with the trumpet and still plays occasionally.

And the Band Plays On

The next generation is just starting out on their musical exploration. The flutophone is now taught in school in second or third grade so Mike and Nikki have had that introduction. Mike is in his middle school band, in the percussion section. Guitar will be taught as part of his music classes this year and he'd like to use mine. I lugged it in from the garage to take the picture I used above. It has a missing string and gear. I'll work at repairing it and maybe recover the joy of playing myself. Nikki won't be able to start with a band instrument until next year but she's already excited about it and trying to decide on an instrument. In a few more years I hope all six will play something and we can have our own family band!

This was written for the 83rd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy to be hosted by Janet Iles at Janet the Researcher.

The subtitle, 50th 51st use for a Flutophone, is my homage to Bill West and fun times in geneablogging land. For the other 49 50 Genealogical Uses for a Flutaphone visit West in New England.

Carnival poster courtesy of of fM at footnote Maven.

Photo of alto clarinet
from Wikpedia courtesy of MToolen.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one.

Photo of alto saxophone from Wikipedia courtesy of Tdvance.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one.

All other images are from the personal collection of the author.


Susan Kitchens said...

That band director who humiliated you and the first saxophonist was, in my considered* opinion, evil. The killer of creativity, that. I love the way that the through-line of musical instruments brings out all kinds of random colors and nuances of your childhood. It's very evocative, very good.

*opinions: it costs nothing and is worth less than that.

Jasia said...

My daughter once told me that the reason she didn't want to pursue a career in music was because she hated the competition for "chairs". She was 2nd chair (violin) to her best friend all through high school. And while that didn't bother her at all, she hated what it did (pressure-wise) to everyone else in the string section. Fortunately, she didn't have the awful kind of experience you had. I'm sure she would have given up music altogether if she had. How very sad that you had to go through that!

I don't have grandchildren yet (hopefully one day!) but I truly enjoyed all the many concerts, parades, and half-time shows we got see our daughter and son perform in. I consider it one of the highlights of my life.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

Susan - Thank you! I learned from my experience. I'm very careful how I handle discipline with my students and try very hard to keep it private and show them respect.

Jasia - I'm happy your daughter was able to maintain her friendship. Maybe if I'd been more competitive about the whole chair thing I'd have worked harder at improving. The first band my kids were in spread the parts around based on ability, they all worked hard and encouraged each other. While I loved going to my kids performances, I don't enjoy my grandkids nearly as much. The kids are great but the selections and disorganization leave me flat. Hopefully with Mike in middle school things will improve this year.