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Senior scene

November 19, 2011

As Time Goes By: I found myself to be a music man -- of the perfect b-flat

I love good music. I love music that once I've heard it I can't forget it _ I end up humming the tune day and night. I also think that my definition of good music includes something I can dance to, and at 74 years of age, "still look good and smooth," Danceable music _ the kind of music where you hold a charming woman in your arms, enveloped in expensive perfume and dream of a cottage just for two. (If three, "he'd better look a lot like me.")

When I arrived on the doorstep of Worcester Central School, I told Mrs. Whitcomb that I had been classified as an "alto—terror." (In those days I thought I had been classified at my former Junior high school as an alto—terror, but she quickly corrected, me and I became an alto-tenor.)

Music was part of the school curriculum, and it was decided that I was going to sing a solo at the end of the year with the choir. The title was "The Golden Sun Was Sinking," and after a shaky start, I was projecting to the back row of the auditorium.

About this same time I started to think that I might finally outgrow puberty and I might want to find myself a date for special occasions.

Besides the chorus, the school had an orchestra and a band (marching on occasion).

One day, I noticed that one of the cutest girls in the school was first violinist, so I decided that I would learn to play an instrument.

I had always admired the people who played tympani, so when Mr. Jameson asked me what instrument I had in mind, that's what I said. There was a long pause and Mr. Jameson said, "How about a trombone?" I said, "Sure," having no idea what a trombone looked like. He showed me how the different notes were created wherever I stopped the slide. This started a long arduous relationship for one lesson lasting 40 minutes once a week.

The first thing I did was to polish that trombone until it gleamed. The second thing I did was to put the mouthpiece into boiling water to kill any potential germs from the former player. (You can never tell where they have been.)

I would practice almost every night. I'd sit with my music book in the rack and I sat on the screened front porch and played a note. Yes I said "a note." I knew b-flat and that was it until the next lesson. I played the hell out of b-flat until my mother could hardly stand it because all the noise was causing the cows to stop giving milk and the chickens to lay eggs.

One day, Mr. Jameson asked me if I could march in the Memorial Day parade. I said OK, but I could only play a handful of notes. He said to look ahead in the music and every time I found a note I knew and could play, to give it a "toot." Apparently the brass section was a bit thin that year, and Mr. Jameson needed bodies.

I practiced my handful of notes, polishing each and every one of them until I was positive that Harry James could do no better. I got a copy of the music we were going to play and I circled all the notes I knew. I was ready.

Now I have to tell you that there is a big difference between listening to music and playing it. If you are listening, you can sit back and let the notes roll over you and even allow some to sink deep into your bone marrow.

Now I was sitting in the band with other players around me and I was making noise even though it was occasional noise rather than the sustained note of a stirring Sousa march.

The fateful Memorial Day arrived, I dressed into my band uniform, took my trombone case by the handle and walked the mile to school. It was a beautiful day.

We warmed up, which meant that I played a soulful b-flat, lined up with the other trombone player, the whistle blew and we were off. Right off the bat I was in trouble. There is a difference between reading music when you are standing still and when you are marching.

In one case, you are in a static position able to focus on the notes in the music; in the other case you are marching, (right foot forward firs,) maintaining proper distance front _ back, right and left. As I bounced along, the notes looked very scrambled and I could hardly make out the ones I had circled.

Somebody kept blowing a whistle and the drummers were "playing to beat the band." There was so much noise I could hardly think.

Suddenly there was a blast of music and I put the mouthpiece to my lips and blasted a b-flat as loud as I could. It apparently was a good choice because I saw Mr. Jameson smiling at me. We marched and I had given up trying to find notes other than b-flat. I cut loose on every one of them and had a ball.

My singing career lasted longer than my instrumental one. Basketball season started and the trombone became a hindrance. Besides, Mr. Jameson was no longer happy with a perfect b-flat _ he was demanding more _ and a handful of notes was not enough. We parted good friends; Mr. Jameson, the trombone and I.

Harry James could rest easy _ it was simply no competition.

Henry Geerken is a three-time NYSUT award-winner writing humorous articles addressing retiree and senior citizen concerns. Geerken also writes for Sail-World, World Cruising Newsletter, regarding his many humorous sailing episodes through the years. He can be reached by e-mail at hgeerken@stny.rr.com. 'Senior Scene' columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/seniorscene.

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