Monday, 29 May 2017

On This Memorial Day

I Can’t Remember How It Starts

When I was in about the sixth grade - which would have made me around 11 years old (I graduated from elementary school pretty much precisely when I turned 12.  I remember that, because my birthday is in mid-June), I went to a recital, I think it was billed as, of ‘some of’ (not fully comprehending that it was of ‘the best of)’ the students of a man - Fred Ohlendorff by name (I will never forget it.  That) - who had talked the city’s School Board (or whomsoever) into letting him - that is to say, paying him to - give free lessons on the instruments of their choice of very young pupils whose families otherwise couldn’t afford it, and they - said School Board - would never regret it. Or however the details of the deal played out.  As it were.

How it happened for me - and on the clarinet - was as follows, and briefly (I don’t want to bore you with this tale. It is, after all, just prelude to The Real Thing): 

One day when I was in the 5th grade, I believe it was (such details fade when you get up to my age.  Well; even earlier, for that matter.  But to continue), some strange lady of the school’s authorities called me out of class and said that ‘she’ thought (as I thought: Who is this person??) that I would be good at a musical instrument, and which one would I like to have some lessons on??, whereupon she took me into an empty classroom where some of the older kids were practicing in a small band.  I didn’t know.  What was this all about? was more where my mind was at the time.  But - well; maybe, the drums…???  Whereupon she pronounced, “I think you would be good at the clarinet.”  

And that’s how that started.  A metal clarinet miraculously appeared in my life, and I started taking lessons from said gentleman; taking the bus during school hours, in the late afternoon, once a week, to another elementary school a not-too-far ride away from ours, where a small bunch of kids about my age or older, on various instruments, would have an hour's lesson with him, and be assigned ‘homework’ for the next week.  (I remember well - for whatever reason, that - that the first piece I learned was ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’.  No Little Star was I to be.  But to continue.)  Not long after this to-me curious event started up in my life (but then, who was I to question what adults got up to, seemingly at random sometimes???), Mr. Ohlendorff asked to talk to me briefly after one of said classes, and politely inquired if I would like to play a piece at ‘a recital’ of some of his students coming up??  Well - sure.  Okay…would I have to learn it by heart?? I remember inquiring.  (Presciently, as it turned out.)  Wellll, said Mr Ohlendorff, casually, as if - to my small child’s mind - it were no big deal; going on to comment words to the effect that the other kids would be doing so.  But I didn’t have to…

And thus came the big day.  I had chosen a piece called La Paloma (‘The Dove’.  Not of Peace, as it turned out; but of flight), and practiced it diligently, and thought that I had finally gotten it down by heart.  And I no doubt had.  In the privacy of my bedroom.  But when came The Day, and it turned out that this ‘little’ (or so I had pictured it) recital turned out to be in front of a huge junior high school auditorium, filled - filled - with adults, I was stunned.  Out of my wits.  And my turn came.  And I got up in front of this huge - huge - assembly.  And announced my piece.  And put my clarinet to my lips.  

And tried again.  

And still couldn’t remember how the darn thing started.

It was mortifying.  For me.  And I'm sure, for them.  I mumbled some words in explanation, and sat down.  To silence.  And the recital carried on,  All those other kids carrying on with their memorized pieces flawlessly.  And the torment finally finished.  And I had the presence of mind to go up to Mr. Ohlendorff, and wait my turn to talk to him - after various people (parents, many??)* were presumably congratulating him on a job well done - and apologize.  But I can remember thinking, on my way back home, on the bus:

Don’t trust adults.  They get up to some weird things, sometimes………

And thus, to our day.  Where ‘the adults’ have, indeed, gotten up to some weird things.  Very weird.  Like all the wars going on (and for time immemorial).  And like, buried cancer therapies and even cures.  (To keep something called ‘The Economy’ going.)  And vaccinations, with horrific side effects.  (Likewise.)  And the likes of pesticides, too (which are killing us as well; just more slowly, is all), as we fail to learn to live in harmony with Nature (and our own, higher, one), not opposed to it.  And so forth, and so on.  All of ‘it’  - The New - just waiting for us, to get to.  With a part in that process that I have to play as well.

It’s just that I can’t remember how it starts.         

But then, that’s alright.  Others have their parts to play, in this Drama that we have been engaged in.  For long enough, now.  Because

it’s time

to draw it to

an - the -


And between us -  as a team - 

we’ll get it right. 

P.S. To give Mr. Ohlendorff his due: He didn’t quite leave me in the lurch, and to my own devices, as my description of The Event may have made the case seem to be.  He had invited me to his home for a run-through of my piece the night before; which I played while reading the music.  He asked me if I had learned it by heart yet; to which I replied in the affirmative, but that I still wanted to go through it a few more times to make sure.  And then came The Day.  And on my way up to the stage in the auditorium, as I walked up there with my clarinet only, he quietly asked me if I had my music.  I assured him that I had learned it by heart by then.  And just didn’t realize, at my tender age, how the heart can hold only so much…
   N.B. He still ‘worked’ on me, one of his star pupils, apparently; trying still presumably to prove his worth to the Board, over the years of my playing in my junior high school band and then orchestra.  He would visit our school periodically - as he did all the others, I’m sure - and ‘take us through our paces’.  At one of which sessions - while I was in my junior, to say 8th grade, year of junior high (this is before the Middle School reboot), and was only about third chair clarinet in the orchestra (having previously attained first clarinet in the school band in my first, sophomore year), he stopped directing us in our piece at one point and asked me point blank if I would like to learn how to play the bassoon.  The bassoon!  That big thing??  Obviously, he was still hoping to impress The Board.  In the event - and with the whispered encouragement of my fellow clarinetists - I declined.  
   And went on to become first chain clarinet in the orchestra in my 9th grade graduating year of junior high; when our musical director - possibly in cahoots with Mr. Ohlendorff, who was still a force to be reckoned with in the musical scene of the Long Beach school system - gave me a starring (there’s that word again) role in the piece that we were to play at our year’s-end All-City junior high school orchestra competition.  The piece was ‘Scheherazade’, by Rimsky-Korsakov, and right in the middle, there is this clarinet solo…
   …but enough of all that mortifying memory stuff.  On to better pastures.
   For me.  
   And for humanity.

* Fortunately, my mother was not a part of this seminal event in her son’s young life.  She was always quietly in the background of said; steering things not to my knowledge.  But to continue.

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