Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hobbies and family support 3: Instruments

In part 2, I mentioned that my mother had taken a few piano lessons in college.  I'm not sure whether she ever took formal voice lessons, I would think I'd have heard if she had.  Mom & Dad actually had a guitar when we lived in Illinois.  I don't know what was wrong with it, but they put it out, cased, for trash pickup.  Mom said that the garbage collector did NOT put it in the back of the truck, it was placed in the passenger seat of the cab.

When I was in 4th grade, a band director (not our regular music teacher) brought in a variety of wind instruments for us to look at and try.  A classmate and I were looking over the woodwinds, both interested in the flute.  She tried the clarinet first, and couldn't get any sound out.  But I could.  She was able to get a note out of the flute, so the band director assumed I wouldn't.  I told my parents I wanted to play, either flute or clarinet. 


My parents were able to find a used clarinet in the Classified Ads, and we bought it.  They put up some sort of chart for "garnishing" my allowance, and over the next ~6 months to a year, I paid them back every penny they spent on the instrument.
I remember my first practice sessions.  Mom, Dad, my sister and two brothers hanging around, complaining about the noise.  Mom trying to suggest ways to make it better.  Me trying to follow her suggestions, but they didn't always make it better.  Lots of squeaks.

My father's job involved rotating shifts.  He might work anywhere from 2 to 5 days on the day shift, get a day off, another 2-5 days on the evening shift (second shift), get a few days off, then work 2-5 days on the graveyard shift.  He'd get his schedule one month at a time, and have to plan his sleep around work.

That meant, perhaps 25% of the time, Dad would be trying to sleep in the evenings, and we needed to try and be quiet.  I couldn't practice on those nights.

I always had a lot of homework.  I don't know how it happened, my sister usually got all her work done during the school day, while I was usually bringing home 3-4 heavy books every night.  Now, I already knew that I wanted to work on the space program.  That meant my academic classes (math, science, reading, spelling) were my priority.  I never wanted a career in music, I just enjoyed playing for fun.

I did the band fundraiser that fall, sold enough items to get the stuffed unicorn doll that I wanted (not the easiest prize to earn).  We performed at the Christmas concert.  I squeaked once.

Years later, when I was arguing for my brother to get violin lessons, my mother told me that they talked with my band instructor about how I was doing.  "It was obvious that you weren't a child prodigy."  All he told them was that I needed to practice more.  So they started pushing me to practice, practice, practice.

I know I should have practiced.  Practice is key to becoming good at anything.  Making time to practice, developing good practice habits, learning how to practice by one's self, those all take a level of maturity that I don't expect to see much before the teenage years.  It makes a difference who is recommending practice, and how they say it.

One day, they came up with this decrementing scheme.  I had to practice every 7 days.  If I missed practicing for a week, I had to practice every 6 days.  Eventually, if I didn't practice every day, they would (did) pull me out of band.


I can't remember timelines clearly.  I remember playing in the Christmas concert, and that band was 4th grade.  Fourth grade was also the year Challenger exploded, at the end of January.  I cried so hard for that crew, on many, many nights.

I was carrying my clarinet in one hand the day Cguthrie00 and Kawphy ran ahead, leaving me to walk alone.  The day that Mark & Juaquin decided to attack.  It wasn't much of a fight.  I think I was using a  messenger bag that year, instead of my usual backpack.  That, or perhaps I had a lunchbox in one hand and the clarinet case in the other.  I started spinning, and with hardware in my hands they couldn't get close enough to hurt me.  We were catty-corner from Mark's house, about 5-7 houses uphill from where I lived.  I saw Dad step out looking for me, and apparently he sent my sister up.  As she approached, they broke it off.  The two boys and I ignored each other from then on.

I didn't play in the spring concert, just sang with my class.  By then I had been pulled out of band, and honestly I'm not sure if there was any band left.  There had only been about 7 of us at the start of the year, and several dropped out before me.

Fourth grade was also the year that we learned a little about how to play recorder in our regular music classes.  They were school instruments, so we carried them back and forth for perhaps 3-6 months and then returned them.  I think it was the instrumental classes where I learned the names of the notes, and a bit about the key signatures.

Even after they pulled me out of band, there were times when I would pull my clarinet case out of my closet, just to look at it again.  I might have tried practicing once or twice after my time in band was done, but not much.  It was loud for the small base housing.

I wouldn't play again until high school.

This past summer, when I was re-reading Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels, I skipped the Harper Hall trilogy.  Sometimes they're all right.  Sometimes they inspire me to practice more.  Sometimes they just hit too close to home.