When I was in third grade, I took an aptitude test to see if I’d do well in band. I passed and chose to learn clarinet, but only because there were no flutes left. Somewhere in the basement is the clarinet my parents bought for me for $100. I still have it.
I played in the school band from fourth grade through eighth grade. It doesn’t sound like much on paper but it was five very big years of my life. The band was a clique all its own. We even had special classes. When everyone else took wood shop or home ec, we took typing. Several times, because it was the only thing we could fit in around our band practice schedule. It worked out because now I can type 100 words per minute, and for a while there I considered a career as a typing teacher. We actually had one teacher at IS 61 dedicated just to teaching typing. These days, that just doesn’t happen, and besides, modern-day kids are practically born knowing how to type. RIP, Mavis Beacon.
Anyway, band was a big deal then. We learned the basics with Miss Forsell in fourth grade and Mr. DeTaranto in fifth. In middle school (aka Intermediate School) we had Mr. Laurenzano, a giant of a man with a booming voice that could span the Grand Canyon. He scared the crap out of me. There were actually two bands in middle school; there was concert band (us) and orchestra, which was for the kids who couldn’t cut concert band. Think “Glee” with instruments. And we were cool. To this day I can see Willy Hakim on trumpet, Andrew Terjesen and Dawn Farley on trombone, Robert Powell and William Harding on drums. There were some flute players too but I never quite got over getting shut out of that and I resented them with all my middle-school fury. Heck, I had the fingers for it. I could’ve been great at it.
There were so many clarinets that we had 3 levels: first row, second row, and third row. I was third row, along with Rosemary Moser (my BFF) and Lisa Copeland. I’ll confess right now, I wasn’t that good at it. When I practiced at home–and trust me, my mother drilled it into me; I think it had something to do with the $100 they spent on the clarinet which, at the time, was a huge chunk of change–our dog, Shirley, would hide on the back porch and wail in pain for her poor ears. Our poor neighbors couldn’t get away from it; they got misery in stereo. I hit “clunkers” all the time in practice. Play a woodwind instrument and you’ll know that ear-bleeding screech when the air doesn’t quite go in the right way. I also hit clunkers in practice at school, but I tried my heart out.
The best times were the concerts. We’d all get dressed up, and we’d be scared out of our shoes that we’d screw up but we took our places anyway, read the sheet music, followed along when it was someone else’s turn, waited for our chance to play. Man, we could wail. We played some tough stuff, too. Much as I love my son’s school, I’ve heard their middle school band; they struggle to play basic songs, and half the time the beat machine plays more than they do. Us, we tackled the disco version of “Star Wars”. We played pop music from our era, not our grandparents’. But the best of all was Rocky.
The movie came out in the middle 70’s, when we were in school. I have no idea how Mr. L got the sheet music but he got it, and we played the sh*t out of it, let me tell you. To this day, when the movie starts and that music cranks up, I get chills from my scalp to my toes, and my eyes well with tears because that, my friends, was one of the greatest moments in my life, when I belonged to something really, really good. That was my Glory Days. The staccato trumpets, the pounding drums, the fire and energy of putting everything we had into making that auditorium ROCK.
And dammit, we did it.
Eventually Mr. L realized I wasn’t cutting it and I got moved down to orchestra. (There was that minor discipline incident where I put cork grease on Lisa Copeland’s chair.) I hated every minute of orchestra. We played lame classical music that meant nothing to me, and the teacher was as far opposite of Mr. L as any human being could be. He was soft-spoken and low on discipline; he couldn’t get the orchestra organized if he used a bull whip, and it showed when we played. I don’t even remember playing with them onstage. I think I did, but if I could’ve played clarinet with a paper bag over my head, I would’ve done it. At that point, I couldn’t get out of middle school fast enough.
I’m 42 and a mom of teenagers now, as you know. Last night on the drive home from Variety, Alex and I fiddled with my iPod, and I remembered I have my “old” one. It won’t update any more; it’s got corrupted software or something. (Use the word “software” to me when I was a band geek and I would’ve given you the same blank look I gave most adults.) But I figured maybe Alex would want to listen to it; there’s a playlist with songs I know he likes. He was more than happy to take it, but what surprised me is that of the 900+ songs on it, he found a song on there that really caught his attention. Last night, before I made him go to bed, he was playing “Gonna Fly Now” from the Rocky soundtrack. The same song we played in band with the staccato trumpets and the thundering drums and the hard, sharp beats at the end that still raise the hairs on the back of my neck. The song that still makes me remember how perfect life was when I was 12 and playing clarinet and belonging to something really, really good.
The funny thing is that he’s playing that song all the time now. He really likes it. He even sings it. I guess he gets that from me.
PS, I’m sitting in the dining room with the windows open as I type this. It’s a gorgeous early fall evening, and the Eagles, our high school football team, are playing just a few blocks away. The band is rocking on with “Rock & Roll Part 2”. I guess they scored. The Eagles’ band isn’t half bad. 🙂
This sounds a little like us , but this was the one that still gives me chills. (It was a Rocky Medley we played.) We had French horns and everything. We didn’t use violins; our clarinet section played instead of violins, and We. Were. Good.