Adventures in Misalignment–Music Lessons

The Von Trapp Family Singers
The Von Trapp Family Singers

I was drawn to the idea of music at an early age, probably because of the movie, The Sound of Music. I had a crush on all of the Von Trapp sisters — adoring the older ones as each successive year went by — nothing creepy, it’s just that my tastes turned to older girls as I myself aged (unlike a Congressmen with an uncensored Twitter account blasting out nudey pics). I wanted to play the guitar like Captain Von Trapp, but I probably would have settled for the naval whistle.

I received a guitar for my twelth birthday freaked out after my first lesson because I couldn’t remember any of the lesson. My father declared that lessons were a waste of money, and that he would teach me music. Alas, those lessons never came. Was it because he sensed that guitar was not my true calling? Was it because he, like Captain Von Trapp, was too busy with his own life to bring music into mine? Like most people, he was cheap and busy. Back then there were all those starving kids in China, so it was enough that he put food on our table. Maybe I’d have gotten those lessons if all those Chinese kids were deprived music. Turnabout is fair play, so I’m sure there are Chinese parents berating their children right now, “You better go to the factory and work twelve hours in deplorable conditions, because there are out of work children in America…”

The next year, I used money from birthday gifts to buy myself a ukulele. I tried to teach myself, but I didn’t know how to keep it in tune, and it sounded so awful. How awful? Well, you know how everyone in heaven plays a harp? I was evidence that everyone in hell plays a ukulele. We had a neighbor that played bagpipes, and he asked me one day to stop making so much noise. We had a neighbor busting concrete with a jack hammer and he asked me to stop that infernal racket with my ukulele. We even had a neighbor blasting granite with dynamite, and he blew himself up. But that’s another joke.

My brother borrowed the ukulele, took it to college, and destroyed it, I believe recreating that scene from Animal House.  While he was gone, I discovered his collection of Playboy magazines hidden in the attic, and so I forgot about the ukulele. And can you believe that none of the Playmates from 1976 to 1981 listed ukulele as a turn on?

Still craving music, I tried out for the middle school band and was asked to play trombone. Middle school bands can never have enough trombones. My father, meanwhile, insisted I play Clarinet. So we compromised and did exactly what my father wanted. I played clarinet.

I flourished for a year, and worked my way up to first seat of the fifth-grade band. However, I only did so out of stupid competitive spirit, not because I loved the clarinet, and when continuing lessons meant I’d have to ride the bus across town, and that my father would have to pay for those lessons, I agreed when my father suggested that he could teach me himself.

It shouldn’t be a shock that by the eighth grade, I was asked to leave the clarinets and play tenor saxophone. The music director reasoned that, because I clearly knew nothing about clarinets, I may as well play anything else, and he needed a saxophone.

Peggy Blotnik was supposed to teach me the fingering, but she was in love with a tuba player, and told me to play random notes, just like the trombone section.

I soon broke my only reed, and I pretended to play music for the rest of the year. I sat in dread during the quiet moments, afraid that the director would ask me to play my part. It turned out that the music director was in love with a flutist, and really didn’t care much about the music. And when the trombones are behind you, nothing really matters musically.

But while the other band members played, and while the director gazed lovingly at the flutist, I practiced whistling. It was also something I had always wanted to do, but had never had the chance to practice. The noisy runs of John Phillip Soussa and the director’s morally bankrupt heart provided me perfect cover.

And so I leave you with the sum total of all the musical training of the first 14 years of my life.