My dad had a strong attraction to thrift stores. When I was in third grade he brought home a “good as new” clarinet.
“I got it so you can take music lessons next year at school,” he said. I was a little puzzled, since I’d never mentioned any interest in the clarinet and wasn’t familiar with it at all. Who knows? Maybe Dad had a special place in his heart for Benny Goodman and wanted one of his offspring to reproduce the sweet sounds of his youth. Whatever his thought process, I looked forward to music lessons that fall.
I proudly carried my instrument case to school that first day, recognizing the opportunity presented me: to follow in the footsteps of my older brother, who had been playing trombone since he was in fourth grade and who, by that time, was playing some very nice melodies. Unfortunately, my optimistic outlook would fade. I carefully assembled the instrument and moistened the reed, according to the music teacher’s instructions, but soon realized it would be weeks and weeks before I would even be able to play the simplest of little tunes. But that wasn’t the worst of it, no. The realization that in order to produce any sound with the thing, the reed had to vibrate between my mouth and the mouthpiece. And I really didn’t like the way that felt. To make things even worse, there were the ever-startling squawks that would come out of the thing with no warning at all, when all I was trying to play was, say, a B-flat.
Undeterred, I carried that little black case back and forth to school and practiced diligently between lessons, week after week, hoping against hope that things would improve. But I only endured more of the same: a perpetual buzzing on my lips and an endless series of random, unnerving, and distinctly non-musical squawks. Needless to say — and you may have seen this coming — I fell out of love with the clarinet.
[Note: Not once during my struggle did I entertain the notion that my predicament may have resulted from any fault of the player of the clarinet, but instead, using my primary school reasoning power, opted to regard clarinets, in general, as stupid.]
I finished out that year’s instruction having basically given up on my instrument, mesmerized instead by two fifth grade flute players. Oh, the exquisite — nay, angelic — sounds that emanated from their wonderful instruments! What bliss, what joy they must be experiencing! My heart coveted those flutes in the worst way. But alas, our family owned one trombone and one clarinet and I would never, ever have confessed my lust to anyone. So at the end of the year, with resignation, I quietly parked the clarinet in the hall closet, never to retrieve it. And thus my budding career in instrumental music was scuttled almost as soon as it began.
Then during my freshman year in high school, out of the blue, my brother challenged me at the dinner table.
“Linda, why aren’t you in band? You’re a good singer. You could play an instrument too, if you wanted to.”
“I hate the clarinet.”
“Who says you have to play clarinet?”
“Well, that’s the only thing we have.”
“What would you like to play?” No one had ever asked me that before, nor had I ever divulged my secret passion.
Without hesitation I shot back, “Flute.”
“I’ll ask the band director if I can borrow a flute for you to try out this weekend — he’ll probably let me.”
Wow. I got butterflies just thinking about getting to hold one in my hands. A few days later, the dream became reality. After several hours of experimenting, I was actually producing a few notes — those rhapsodic flute-y notes. I was in love. The following school year, I signed up for beginning band as well as the individual instruction my school offered. My career in instrumental music was suddenly back on track. I continued playing throughout high school and then auditioned for the college stage band. (They played augmented arrangements that featured flute embellishment.) I passed the audition and proudly took my place in the group. I had a grand time, especially when we took our show on the road — we hit Nashville and Cincinnati the next summer (1970).
Oh yeah. I should probably mention that I fell hard for the drummer in that college band and married him a few years later. And all because my brother figured it was a shame I wasn’t playing some instrument or other…