Saturday, October 17, 2009

I Could Have Been Somebody!

It's nineteen minutes after midnight, and all is well. I'm sitting comfortably in my computer room, listening to symphonic music, on National Public Radio. Don't ask me what they are playing, most of the time, I couldn't tell you if my life depended on it. All I know is that I love it! I have no formal education, beyond the 12th grade. Oh, I had nearly 1500 hours of technical education in the Army, and half a semester art classes at Virginia Commonwealth University, when I was discharged, but other than that, my education is limited to what I have taught myself .

My introduction to classical music began in the fourth grade, when I was a student at P.S. 53, J.K. Lilly Sr. elementary school, in Indianapolis, Indiana. We had just moved to Indianapolis from Omaha, Nebraska, and the school was in the process of starting an orchestra. I was asked to participate. I had never played an instrument before, and the prospect fascinated me, so I agreed. I was assigned to play a viola.

I'll never forget how proud I was, when I brought my brand new school issue viola home with me. In my room, I took it out of it's case and studied it. I felt so important to be trusted with its keeping. It's wood was so beautifully crafted, but what especially impressed me was the horse hair bow, and the curious smelling block of rosin, that was used to treat the hairs of the bow.

In school at first, we were taught some rudimentary lessons. Scales, finger exercises and such, but no specific tunes. At home I would practice. Now, keep in mind that I was a mere 9 or 10 years old, and had never played a musical instrument in my life , other than the standard black plastic, elementary school recorder. I was definitely no musician! I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, but when I pulled my viola out of it's case, and began to play, my little rat terrier Betsy, would go absolutely insane! The wail of the stings triggered some kind of primal response in her, and she would sit by my side and just howl! Knowing that my playing could have this affect on her, thrilled me to no end, but it drove my parents nuts! Imagine a sound more akin to scraping nails on a blackboard, than to anything remotely approximating the sound of music.

I never did amount to much of a musician, but that year at P.S, 53 introduced me to classical music, for which I will be forever grateful. The Indianapolis school system used to have an annual event, in conjunction with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, called the Music Memory Contest. For weeks in advance, kids who participated in music classes, would listen to recordings of the great master's classics, and memorize as many details as they could. Our wonderful music teacher would give us little ditties to sing along with the notes being played, so that we would remember what the piece was, and who composed it. To give you a example, think of Mozart's Symphony in G minor. To remember this one, our teacher taught is to sing, "G mi.....nor, symphony by Mozart, G mi........nor symphony by Mozart.........etc.", and at the beginning of Beethoven's Symphony #5, we would sing, "Symphony 5!...............Symphony 5!..................Symphony 5, Symphony 5, Symphony 5!" Probably sounds silly to you, but for our innocent minds it worked, and we did a pretty good job of recognizing various composers and their work, as the orchestra played them.

Unfortunately, my viola playing came to an inglorious end, when just before a concert our music teacher had arranged for parents one night, I not only popped a string on my viola by over tightening it, but in my rambunctiousness, I scraped the top of my instrument on the corner of a table while running through the music room on the way to the concert. When my teacher saw the condition of my instrument after the concert, she told me I wasn't responsible enough to be entrusted with a fine instrument, and she took my viola away from me. And with that, I was summarily dismissed from the student orchestra. I feigned disappointment, but secretly I was thrilled. I had be come bored with the viola anyway. What I wanted to play was a horn. The next year I would get my chance, when a new school, P. S. #92 opened up, and all of us kids on the east side of Arlington Avenue, were transferred to it. At the beginning of the new school year, my mother was called to school to talk with me and the new music teacher. The teacher asked me what instrument I would like to play, and right away, I said "a trumpet". My mother immediately bristled, and said, "No! You are going to play a viola!" My heart sank, but probably for the first time in my life, I stood up to my mother, and said, "Well, if that's my only choice, then I don't want to play anything!" Both my mother and my teacher tried to persuade me to take up the viola again, but I remained steadfast. I never played another instrument again, until my junior year in high school, when I got a guitar and learned a few basic chords for playing folk music. What a shame, I later said to my mother..........."You don't understand, I could of had class! I could have been a jazzman! I could have been somebody! Instead of a bum, which is what I am!" **grin**

Melissa XX


Leslie Ann said...

Very good! I wonder how many under forty will get the reference?

Lucy Melford said...

Let me put on my leather jacket and Marlon Brando face. Yep, the world of music lost a contender all right!

I have two guitars up in the attic. They'll have to stay there. I'm not cutting my nails simply to hold down a chord. Never was good at doing that E flat chord anyway...


caroline said...

I certainly was not going to cut my nails to play the guitar!

Ironically, because of some unknown reason my nails keep breaking and are the shortest they have been for over forty years, I have been told that they now help make me more passable! Real girls on the whole do not manage to keep nice long nails!!

Caroline x

Two Auntees said...

Ah! The Classics, the symphonies, and Opera's, when I listen to classical music I am transported to another emotional existence. When I was assigned to the Army band at Ft Lee, we would do monthly Summer Concerts on the parade field. It was a pain to set up, but watching the people's faces was well worth the time.

Stephanie said...

I played the trumpet in sixth grade, something that came very easy for me. A teacher from the high school, a man with grandeur problems, came to teach us. Three months into my lessons, I was playing way ahead at the back of the book. He bitched about it in front of everyone in the class one day, telling me if I wouldn't follow his pace I could leave his class. Since I had to give up P.E. for the class, guess where I went. I've always wanted to pick up on the trumpet where I left off. Someday...


Anonymous said...

I was actually getting pretty good on that "Flutaphone"/recorder in the 4th grade. I wanted to be in the school band and my uncle left me a coronet I could have used. But, in my infinite wisdom and under great prodding from my classmates, I made the choice to play football instead. I've never enjoyed playing organized football...backyard stuff, yes. Oh well...there went my music career.

I learned to like classical music when I took a required course in music appreciation. I'm still pretty picky about what I listen to, but I can honestly say that class really did me some good.

It's never too late Melissa...go get yourself a viola and get after

caroline said...

My school did music and art AVERSION THERAPY!

I have managed to survive nearly 60 years without learning anything about how music works or how to play a single note on any instrument.

It has not stopped me accumulating yards of CDs of serious music from my favourite Hildegard of Bingen (1098 -1179!) to Philip Glass. it is all just magic how it is done and I am grateful for it.

Caroline xxxx

Anonymous said...

I played the recorder at school and enjoyed it a lot.
However my male friends at school didnt do things like that and i gave it up.
Recently however I have taken up the guitar.
18 months on and I am still enjoying it, I have to admit that my enthusiasm wained a bit over the summer but I am back enjoying it now.

Melissa said...

@ Lisalisa

I have a guitar thats been sitting in its case unused, for quite a while now. I could never get the hang of bar chording, so I was never able to get beyond playing simple basic chords. To play I had to file my nails down to the quick, and he steel strings hurt my fingers, and put rough callouses on them, that would snag hosiery and other fine fabrics. I just didn't think my limited abilities, made the sacrifice worthwhile. I do envy those who can play though, and love to watch and listen to someone who has mastered the fret board.