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**