Several years ago our youngest son asked me, "Dad, why did you have me play a saxophone?"
"Because that is what you asked for," I replied.
"Well what did I know, I was only a little kid," Carl said.
We have been honored to hear many orchestras and bands play beautiful music. The renditions of various numbers were delightful to dance to and hear. The variety of instruments overwhelmed one and the thought comes to mind, "Why are you playing the instrument you have?" I am sure that each musician would have a great story about why they chose that particular instrument to devote many hours of practice to perfect the desired technique.
A good friend of mine, band director at the school I taught in, told me this story about himself. When he was in elementary school he was walking down the hall one-day and the band instructor stopped him and said, "I want you to come play a bassoon." Henry said he didn't even know what a bassoon was let alone why he was picked but later he found out the instructor thought his mouth and lips were "the ideal shape for playing that particular instrument." It must have been the correct choice as Henry played that instrument all through public school and also in college. It inspired him to become a lifetime music teacher.
The talent of playing an instrument is indeed a gift. Some just play a musical instrument while others play with inspiration. Singing is the same and it is indeed a pleasure to sing alongside an individual who has perfect pitch. That is a gift and although many can sing they need to practice, practice to achieve those true notes.
There are some regrets that one acquires in later life and one for me is that I didn't keep up my playing of a baritone horn. When I was in the third grade my father came home one day with a baritone horn. My father said, "Mr. Day thinks you should be in the band."
I looked at that old dented brass horn and wasn't so sure. I had never given playing a horn much thought, but what does a third grader know? One day at a time!
Mr. John Day was our town and school band director. He had enough foresight to know that if the school and town bands were ever to flourish, students had to be started early and trained. That summer Mr. Day announced the formation of a Beginners Band so he went out recruiting. He had told my Dad it was time for Aubrey to get an instrument and get started.
"What kind?" my Dad asked.
"Doesn't make much difference," Mr. Day replied.
Several days later in a conversation with our neighbor Mr. Turner, Dad made a remark about needing a band instrument for me.
Mr. Turner said, "I've got an old baritone horn in the basement that I used to play; maybe that would be one he could use."
"How much do you want for it?" Dad Asked.
Ed said, "That horn is worth a lot to me for sentimental reasons but if it will help get a band going in town I'll sell it for 50 cents."
"Done," my Father said.
And that is how I started my career as a bass clef baritone player in the school band and also in the city band.
During that summer Mr. Day held morning band practices three times a week. He had a great deal of patience as I am sure it must have offended any good musician's ears to hear all the sour notes that were issued by that beginning band. Mr. Day was a very patient but demanding man and I remember one way he had to get our attention.
He had been a good baseball pitcher for many years and could throw a good hard fast ball. If one wasn't paying attention or was talking out of turn Mr. Day would nonchalantly walk up to the blackboard, pick up an eraser and then turning around very fast throw that eraser at you and it would either strike your horn or you on the head. Once was enough and after that you paid attention.
Learning to play a baritone horn wasn't all that difficult except I never did learn the correct designation for the notes as, B, C, F, G and so on. I did learn that by depressing one, two, three, none or combinations of those three valves I could match the note on the music sheets. Later came the timing, flats and sharps, and all in all I did manage to follow the music.
There was a lot to learn about playing in a band and following the director but it was always very rewarding. When school was in session we had practices late in the afternoon and if we had individual practice sessions I don't remember. I do remember a friend of mine and myself going to practice together as he and I played the same notes but he had a 3rd trombone and I had a baritone. We were supposed to play the same notes but that wasn't always the case.
When I was learning to read music I must have missed the significance and the identification of the notes by letter because to this day I do not know them. I did learn that by depressing various combinations of valves on the baritone horn the correct note could be produced. Unfortunately I can not read treble clef notes to this day and am very irritated with sheet and church music that present only treble clef notes. Bass clef, I can read and follow. I am sure some of you musicians who read this little story will find it hard to understand.
My parents enrolled me with a piano teacher when I was young but much to my regret today, I never kept it up. I just love piano music and would give anything to be able to play. I understand with the new computer background music and chords that it would still be possible but there are never enough hours in the day even after one retires for all the things you would like to do. Hearing a banjo is the height of music for me and that also I would love to play. The numbers issued forth from a banjo just makes your feet start tapping.
The music that really was inspiring to me when I played in the school band was the marching numbers. Carl King of Fort Dodge, Iowa wrote band music that was great. Many of you can remember Carl King and his band playing at the Clay County Fair for many years. That music was inspiring and made one want to just march up and down the racetrack.
Marching bands were one way for us to get to go to various contests. There were the district marching band contests and then the state. If your band was chosen you went on to national contests. While in high school our band went to Omaha, Minneapolis and St. Paul to compete. For many of us back in the 1930s and early 1940s that was the first time we had been out of the state of Iowa. What an experience to get to travel that distance.
The national marching band contest in Minneapolis was very exciting as we drove through Mankato, Minnesota and stopped at Shakopee before going on to Minneapolis. The contest was held in a football field right next to the Brewers' baseball practice field. It was our first encounter with professional baseball players even if they were a major league farm team.
Our band only had 31 members and it was exciting to observe some of the large high school bands with over 100 members. One band that always did impress us was the marching band from the Eldora Training School. We didn't mingle with them however but they had a top marching band and showed that they had discipline.
Looking back at that contest there was one incident that always left an impression on me. We had chaperones along and one lady took it upon herself to escort about seven or eight of us to a nearby streetcar stop. We went clear around the route of that streetcar and back to the football field. It was our first experience in a large city and being from a small town, Minneapolis at that time seemed immense. What a nice thing for that lady to do. I am sure we had our mouths open most of the time.
Music has always been part of my life and some of my fondest memories are of playing in the bands and singing in the choruses in high school, both of which can be carried on all through life. Being a member of a large chorus even today gives me a great deal of satisfaction as well as singing in church choirs. Those are things that one can enjoy throughout life.
I am eternally grateful for band directors like Mr. John Day and vocal music teachers like Miss Margaret Lease. Your school had some of the same dedicated music teachers and today there are many who seem to get the best out of their students. Music makes the world easier to live in and God bless the musicians.