BLOG SERIES - My Musical experiences - the pre-Middle School years

Written by Bob McCormick on 1/02/2007 09:10:00 PM

I've been meaning to start blogging about my experiences playing in school bands. Encouraged by an old High School buddy of mine, I've decided to write a series about my experiences. Mostly, my experiences mirror what a lot of other people have had - the typical (and in some cases, not so typical) school band experience.

I was fortunate enough to be born into a musical family. My mother had majored in drama in college and was constantly participating in plays and musicals (and still does!). My father participated in some of these musicals (at least, when I was relatively young). My younger sister would later continue on to obtain a Masters degree in Vocal Performance at the Boston Conservatory of Music.

But back in the early 70's, we lived in Dallas, TX. My older sister (two years my senior) started to learn to play the flute in fourth grade (we were enrolled in a parochial school which taught instrument playing that early). When I made it to fourth grade, I decided to learn to play the saxophone. I just liked the instrument's shape (after all, what instrument is shaped like the first letter of its name?!?), and for some reason or other, I liked the fact that something as complicated-looking as a saxophone could make sounds and music like that. So my parents and I went to a local music store in downtown Dallas, started "rent-to-own" payments on a used beginner's King Cleveland Alto Saxophone, and off I went to early morning music lessons.

Saxophone playing, like other woodwind instruments, is kind of like learning to read music as if it were braille. Unlike some instruments (piano, guitar), you can't look at where your hands or fingers need to be in order to play the note - the instrument's design prevents you from seeing them. You simply have to know that a particular note has a particular fingering. The result is that when you learn to play saxophone, musical tones are converted into finger positions. (The symptom is so prevalent that, to this day, as I read choir music, I find myself "fingering" the notes I'm trying to sing as if I were playing them on my sax!)

During fourth grade, I was able to learn enough of Alto Saxophone playing that was able to advance from the beginners group up to our school's concert band. It wasn't much - a group of about 50 or so wind and percussion instrumentalists all the way up to the eighth grade - but it was good progress for me.

Unfortunately, my family moved to Florida after that first year. I enrolled in a public school, but that meant going to a new Elementary school, where there was no musical instrument training. For the first half of the year, I was out of luck. But in the second half of the year, the school district sent a music teacher to the Elementary school to offer kids the chance to start to learn to play instruments. So for the second year in a row, learned how to play Saxophone all over again. Of course, it was not difficult - I'd already learned how to read and play the music. I even played a solo from the beginner's Saxophone book at the fifth grade musical production at the end of the year.

All in all, my saxophone playing had been a little bit frustrating, but I felt that I was pretty good at it and certainly wanted to continue on.

NEXT WEEK: I'll blog about my Junior High experiences ... and a "rude awakening" for my sax playing.

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