Music has always been a part of my life. It began in my childhood: My mother had considered being a professional singer and had trained as an operatic soprano; my father had won the 1934 Nebraska State Championship for tenor voice. My siblings were equally talented: my sisters both sang; my oldest sister played the piano and organ; my other sister trained her voice like my mother's; and my older brother could play the piano by ear and attended all-state band on the baritone four years in a row.
We played many records — my parents loved musical theatre and we had all of the popular productions of the time. There were albums of Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Jeanette McDonald, and many others. And the 45's were all the rage when we were teens — and we had stacks of them. My brother took a liking to classical, and his records often reflected his partiality to that.
Once the television entered our home, it was music again that drew my family to watch much of it: The highlights of the week during the 50's were two programmes — "The Hit Parade" which performed the top ten singles of the week, and "The Ed Sullivan Show" which had numerous musical numbers. Later, of course, there was "The Perry Como Show" or "The Andy Williams Show."
Watching the TV shows, listening to the records, and hearing my sister play most popular tunes on the piano while singing (sometimes with my other sister and with me), I learned many the lyrics to many songs.
I started learning how to play the piano when I was about 8, following in the footsteps of my three older siblings. I loved playing the piano — but I wasn't ever as good at it as I wanted to be, and being compared to my talented older sister didn't help much. I ended my piano lessons at age 13, after I had played a solo at my Grade 8 Graduation. I continued to play the piano, but I was always frustrated by my lack of talent. I did, however, learn to read music and so it was easy to switch to another instrument.
In Grade 6, I joined the elementary school band, learning to play the clarinet. I played clarinet for three years, but my final experience with it certainly did not go as well as I would have hoped: During my 8th grade graduation, I played a clarinet duet with a friend and classmate. My clarinet — one I had not played before — squeaked whenever I played "E." We got the giggles and literally put our clarinets down and had to gain control of ourselves. We did finally play the piece, but my memory was always about the squeak and the giggles.
When I entered high school, my new band teacher wanted me to switch from clarinet to flute (hopefully he had not heard of my clarinet duet disaster). He said my fingers were too small to ever be a successful clarinetist, and perhaps he was right. But I suspect he had so many clarinetists he didn't know what to do with them — yet he had only one flute player, and he needed another one.
And so I became a flute player in the Western High School band and thus began four years of fun and memories. First chair flute was played by a girl two years older than me. Claudia was very good, and she became my teacher and mentor. Switching from clarinet to flute was not difficult, as far as fingering goes, as they were similar, but the flute controls sound by blowing over the hole, while the clarinet uses a reed.
We were an active band: playing at every football game, marching at all home half-time ceremonies (often taking the bus to attend out-of-town games), attending state competitions and festivals, marching in parades, and presenting two or three concerts per year.
Being in band didn't make you "cool" to the other kids, but what I liked about band is that we were a solid, loyal group, and it was one of the few classes you could take where kids from every grade level were involved. We formed our own group — "the band kids" — and enjoyed each other's company a great deal.
Taking trips to other neighbouring towns for festivals and parades or football games was common:
During football season in the fall, there was a game every Friday night. During a 'home game' we'd play at half-time; if it was an out-of-town game (usually every other week) we would go to the game and play when our team scored a touchdown.
After football season came basketball season. A small group of us participated in a pep band at the basketball games.
During both football and basketball seasons, the band attended the pep rallies and usually played the school song: "We're loyal to old Western High; we're purple and gold, Western High; We'll bet you to stand you're the best in the land, for we know you are grand, Western High! Rah! Rah! So ... Western High, ...our team is our famed protector; on boys, for we expect a victory from you, Western High!" (If you know the missing words, please let me know!)
Early spring brought the music festivals and tryouts for all-state band — usually in other cities. I never made all-state band but usually got fairly decent scores on my flute solos and the duets I played with Claudia.
We always gave a concert (attended by family and friends) in the late spring. Hardest part of that was selling tickets to anyone!
In late spring and even in the summer, we would sometimes travel to other towns to participate in parades, and we were usually at the 4th of July parade in Silver City every year.
Some of our more memorable band trips included:
The gas tank falling off the bus about 30 miles from home. The bus driver put it back up with hanger wires, and we got home in one piece (somewhat surprisingly). I didn't tell my father about that particular occurrence!
A squirt gun fight in a motel where we were staying for the festival. The owner came to complain (while water dripped down from the door) and my brother solemnly said, "No, sir. We do not have any squirt guns here."
Our bus driver drove under the entrance to a motel — well, he tried. The bus was too high and it badly damaged the motel's canopy entrance.
During one halftime show, the football team came back on to the field too early. The drum majorette whistled for us to go forward and head to the end of the field. The "guide right" (who was my brother) signalled a right turn, which would get us off the field sooner. About half the band went with the drum majorette, and the rest went with my brother. Probably no one noticed!
I made good friends in band and we had a lot of fun, but playing in a band is such a great feeling. Unlike playing the piano (everyone is listening to you all the time), you are able to be a part of something bigger. Making mistakes happen, of course, but the group works together and hopefully achieves a joyful sound.
Every morning, during marching season, we would pile in our cars (if we had one and a driver's license) or walk to a large practice field on the campus of New Mexico Western College (later to become Western New Mexico University). Mr. Gardner, our band teacher, would have the plans for the next half-time show, and we would receive drawings showing where we would stand for each particular design and then how and where to go to get to the next design. And, of course, we would practice playing the songs.
Marching in a parade took different skills. You were to be lined up with the row you were in, and the column you were in. The person at the right front was called "guide right" (and this was usually my brother) and he guided the rest of the group. The drum major (or majorette) would give signals to stop, start, turn left or right, but it was still the "guide right" that we tended to follow because we couldn't always see the drum major (or necessarily hear their whistle).
For four years I marched and played my way through high school. It was always a comforting place to be — among other students who enjoyed music as much as I did and felt the same emotions when playing a fun, beautiful, or exotic piece of music. They were the best years of high school.
Music has stayed in my life: I sang in two different adult all-female choirs; I directed numerous elementary and secondary school choirs; I continued to play the piano but gave it up a few years ago, never feeling that I would achieve the talent of a Van Cliburn; I bought a flute and a guitar and played both for a while; and, finally, I use music in my fitness classes today, enjoying the sounds of my youth while staying fit and healthy (hopefully).
In no particular order, here are other personal articles I have written: