Wednesday, 24 July 2013

On Careers

From the sublime to the ridiculous in these blogs of mine.  Or at least, to the mundane.  

I'd like to talk about careers, and the lack thereof; or the changing of direction thereof.  First, the real thing.

I have just sent off an email of appreciation to the director of the organization that sponsors the likes of the municipal band concerts in the parks in and around Long Beach in the summers.  It is self-explanatory:   

To: - Executive Director

July 24

Dear Drew,

I'm not sure if I have come to the right place to make my comment, but if not, I'm sure that you will send it in the right direction.

I just wanted to say that I had the very good fortune to catch the last two performances of the LBMB at the Bixby Bluff Park - of last Tuesday and yesterday evening - and words almost fail me.  I was, simpiy, blown away.  And especially with yesterday evening's performance, and with Nicole Kubis, who has a GREAT career ahead of her.

Consummate performances, and performers, all.

Back in the mid-'50s I used to enjoy catching the LBMB down at the old Shell bandstand on The Pike.  IT was good then.  It is great now, under the inspired, and inspiring, direction of Larry Curtis.  

I have been away from Long Beach for over 55 years (my, how time flies), most of it living overseas, and I want to say that it has been a great homecoming to have caught these performances.  (Sorry to have missed the first one of the season at the Bluff.)

You folks have done yourselves, and Long Beach, proud. 

A lot of 'greats' in this missive, I see, in reading [back] over it.  But all greatly deserved.

Most sincerely

'Stan' Stanfield
Poly High graduate, Class of '52


It put me to mind of my aborted career as a musician.  I'm pretty sure I have referred in these blogs to this embarrassing episode in my younger days, but briefly:

In around the fifth grade of my elementary school career (…) I was called out of class one day and asked by some school authority or other if I would like to learn to play a musical instrument, and if so, what would it be.  This was all very strange to me,1 but in for a penny…there were some kids there, in a nascent school band (a very small number of kids; so far), and the drums looked like fun.  But this woman - who was apparently involved with the Arts for the elementary school system - suggested I might like the clarinet.  And that's how my ordeal - er; my short-lived musical career - began.

It involved taking the public bus to another elementary school once a week for lessons from a man who had been hired by the school system to give free musical lessons to kids whose families couldn't afford private lessons.  In the class were a few other kids; a girl learning to play the flute, I remember; I can't actually remember if there were any other clarinetists in it.  In any event, the day came when the man - Mr. Ohlendorff, I remember; a very proper name for a very proper music teacher - asked me, privately, at the end of the class session, if I would like to play a piece for a 'presentation' of some sort, of his best students, was the understanding.  Not knowing any better, I said yes.  

The casual day came.  At least, it started out casually.  I had been instructed where to go - to the auditorium of a junior high school, that is the one that I in fact ended up attending, starting the following year.  I had been given instructions on how to get there the previous evening, when I met with Mr. Ohlendorff at his house for a run-through of the piece I was going to play  I will never forget it (so to speak; read on): a piece called La Paloma.  The Dove.  What you hear fluttering in the background is my heart, at the memory…I played the piece for him off my sheet music.  He gave me some positive feedback, and then asked me if I had memorized it.  (When I had signed up for the assignment, he had told me, in answer to my query whether I had to play it by memory, that 'most of the other kids would be doing so'.  It didn't seem, or at least he didn't make it out to be, like a big deal…)  I told him that I had gone through it number of times without the music, and would have it better in memory by the next day -  

when I took the stage, for my turn.  By then I had been rather stunned at the sea of faces.  The auditorium (it was the lunchroom for the school in its normal usage) was full of adults.  This wasn't just an occasion for the families of his best students.  This was an occasion (I assumed, later) for the public to find out if their hard-earned property tax money was going to a worthy cause…I was mortified to, in the event, disappoint them.

I simply wasn't prepared for it.  And it showed, when I put my clarinet to my mouth - and I couldn't remember the first note.  How does it start??  My mind was a blank.  For the life of me, I just couldn't remember how the darn thing started.  And it never did come back to me.  I retired from the stage in ignominy.2

So, my career as a musician didn't get off to a very promising start.  And can in fact be said to have gotten off to a non-start.  And it ended on an equally embarrassing note. 

I saw the interim stage through nicely, ending up being first chair clarinet in both my junior high school band and then orchestra.  And enjoyed it.3  And then the end of my junior high school career was coming to a close; and in a grand finale, our orchestra was going to be competing with the others in the city for honors.  Our musical instructor - a dapper youngish man, by the name of James Mitchell4 - had picked a piece of music that felt like a winner: Scheherazade, by Rimsky-Korsakov.  Interestingly enough, it had a clarinet solo part right smack in the middle of it.  He must have thought well of my playing.  And in point of fact, when I was challenged by the second chair guy for my first chair position, close to the end of the year, and we both played that solo as our 'duel', he decided to stay with me.  Which I unfortunately didn't reciprocate.

It happened because I was also selected the Outstanding Graduating Ninth Grader from my school by the city Lions Club, and was attending a special luncheon in our honor which just happened to be on the same day as the orchestral competition.  I figured I could get from the one to the other easily enough; but the luncheon went on, and on, and on…at one point, I saw a young fellow winner leave; and began to add one and one.  I wonder if he's going to the same event that I'm supposed to be at, too…                      

Who's in charge around here? I began to think.  And finally realized that 

I was.

That you can't trust the adults to do it.  They can mislead you.

I finally whispered to my mom that I thought I needed to go.  Old Another Artie Shaw's mother wasn't being a very good adult, in the matter, in keeping an eye on such adult-decision things - as I saw it, from my little kid's viewpoint - so it was up to me.  To give her credit, she - who had been enjoying the limelight, as the mother of one of The Chosen Ones -  responded immediately, and off we went, driving quickly to another high school in town, while I changed into my orchestra uniform in the back seat.  She asked me if I knew what time our orchestra was supposed to take its place on stage, but I didn't know; it was rather an open-ended thing, for all I knew.  For whatever reason, she wasn't staying for the competition - I'm not sure if it was even open to the public, or at least to the parents of the players, so little about it did I know - so she left me off in front of the school auditorium (me and school auditoriums…), and, getting really worried by then, I raced around to the stage entrance, and went in -

and discovered my school's orchestra was on stage. Playing.  Apparently having just taken its place in the line of competition.

Without its first chair clarinetist. 

But at least with a second chair in place, who knew the part.

And coveted it.

And was given his big opportunity.

I have often thought about that day, and have wondered if it was 'meant to be'.  Long before I knew anything about karma, I had a sense that there was a larger picture involved in life; and that we were - in some sense - just playing parts.  

I didn't seem to be playing mine very well.

But - you never know, about these things... 


As Margaret Thatcher said, on the occasion of her ousting from the prime ministership by her party:

"It's a funny old world."

Indeed, Margaret.  Indeed.



1 Only later did I find out that my mom was behind it all.  She had a curious way of sneaking around behind the scenes of my life and orchestrating things,  In this instance, it may have had to do, not just with a mother wanting her child to learn to play a musical instrument, but because of her infatuation with show biz; which was the reason that she inveigled her second husband to move to Southern California in the first place, from our home in back-of-beyond Idaho .  But of that, another time; or at least, later. 

2 At least I had the presence of mind to go up to Mr Ohlendorff afterwards and apologize.
     I don't recall what he said, either.  

3 With, perhaps, dreams of Artie Shaw and his Band dancing in my mom's show biz-infatuated mind.  She even mentioned his name once.  In a kidding way, of course.  Me?  I never thought much about 'the future'. Took each day as it came.  You never know what's going to happen…that may come along, and spoil everything……best to play it safe………

4 He had all the girls swooning over him.  He came back from the summer break every year with a deep tan; lived in a bit of a swinging part of town, on the beach.  If that had been this day and age, I might have wondered if he was gay; but that was well before the time of the cultural shift in that regard.  (If he was, he never let on about it.  He was a good, inspiring teacher.  That was it.)


N.B. When I went into high school, I dropped the clarinet for other things; getting too involved in sports and studies to engage in something that was beginning to seem a bit frivolous.  What future was there in playing a musical instrument??
     The members of the Long Beach Municipal Band have given me the answer to that silly question.
     For them.
     For me, I ended up throwing over a possible career in medicine, for a lifelong search for answers to the Big Kahuna - the Big Question, of What Is Life All About.
     We're all just about there now, to the answer to that one.
     Our mutual career - as 3D performers - about to draw to a close.
     For those of Us Who are ready for the Next Act.
     For the others?
     Ah, well.
     That's show biz.

     Oh - and as for the clarinet?  I ended up selling it as a backup instrument to a professional musician, when I left university and was trying to raise a little money to head out on the first leg of my Journey: to go across the continent to New York City, where I presumed I would find 'the largest public library in the Western world,' to help me uncover the Truth of things.  Including of myself.
     It proved to be a good start.  But more on that, perhaps another time.  In any event: the clarinet (which by then had morphed into a black stick' one, from the metal one that my mother had bought for me, back at the beginning of the saga, of Music Making and Me.  It was a gift from my father, one summer that my brother and I spent up north with him and his wife, and new child, our half sister.  It was a matter of contention between me and my mother. The new clarinet; not the half sister.  She had 'scrimped and saved' for it.  But my dad wanted to do something for me - what am I supposed to do???
     Parents.  Can't live with them.  Can't live without them.
     Especially when they have the reins of government in their hands, and are trying to control your life to within an inch of it.
     Ah.  I feel my next blog coming on......

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