April 15, 2010


When I was in high school I played in the band. During football season and parades I played an alto Saxophone and for concerts I played Oboe. My senior year I was entered into a competition to play in a student orchestra, sponsored by the city's Symphony Orchestra. My band teacher selected a piece for the Oboe. I don't remember what it was, but I didn't like it. I did practice because I wanted a chance to play in an orchestra. It was extremely technical and difficult to play, but I thought I had mastered the technique. I didn't get a chance to find out from the Symphony's players or conductor, because my band teacher told me that I wasn't good enough and he would not allow me to audition. 

One might be thinking that he was right, but I had formal music training since I was five and had played a wind instrument for six years and three on the Oboe.  I had been exposed to classical music before I started taking piano lessons. I may not have been good enough, but I was good enough to audition. If I had failed, I would have had the experience and exposure.  In college, this would have given me the confidence to play well enough in the University's orchestra to perform with them.

I thought about this now, because I still want to play, now that I'm retired and I have to start over. Buy an instrument, take lessons and hope that I can attain the facility I had in high school. I do think that I have a better grasp on music interpretation now that I'm older, which I hope will make others willing to play with me.

I think of the reason I was not allowed to audition, it is that I would have been among the first; the first Negro, that burden of perfection.  During that time, that is what Black people wanted to send out into the white world. Yes it was well known that you had to be twice as good or work twice as hard to get that position or recognition, but I wonder how much talent has been stifled, because of some ill conceived notion of not being perfect.

Today forty years later, we are still remarking about the first Negro, which gives the impression that Black people have hardly made any strides. Reflecting on my audition, I am beginning to think that the celebration of the First sends the wrong message.

That student orchestra wasn't filled with white prodigies, they were musicians. Most would never have solo careers or play with the New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra or The Chicago Symphony, but they might have had careers in music, staying in their small town, playing with the local orchestra or ensembles.

April 01, 2010

Living in the last half of the 20th century

The one thing about living half a century in the 20th was to see the quickness of change that technology brought and how the public discourse has changed. I was reading this post at The Strange Death of Liberal America, "Can Right and Left be friends?" which made me think about a childhood friend, an adult neighbor, who had many discussions with my dad about politics. He was a Republican and my dad, a Democrat. The  conversations never got toxic, didn't create the animus that seem to be so prevalent today. I also thought about a college friend who didn't seem to be so rigid, as to get angry when he was challenged, but forty years later had seem to have gotten ultra sensitive to any criticism. Then as one thought leads to another, I thought back to my childhood when there was not such a bridge between the Black Republican and Democrat. When Edward Brooke was a senator, we were all proud.

The generation gap was created during this time, which I never understood. Sometimes I think it was a media intervention. I could not fathom why there was so much controversy over the music. Rock seem to me to have the same roots as swing. When I said I had an  adult friend, it didn't go beyond the boundaries of adult and child, but I could talk to this person about most things. I remember another neighbor who would give  me cookies or something to drink and sit on the porch and chat with me. At five I was treated with respect as if I had been twenty. As an adolescent I rebelled against my parents, but not to a point where there was a riff. I think when I grew up the expectation was that you would become an adult when you graduated from high school, so you were expected to be more responsible at an earlier age; no long transition into adulthood.

The advent of PC language, the increased sensitivity of groups, the idiocy of group think, the expansion of addictions, the constant talk without substance, seem to be inventions of the last half of the 20th century. I can't say I would have liked to have lived in other times, but I would  have liked the civility of my childhood to have lasted a little longer.