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.


D W JazzLover said...

You really brought back some memories of that time..it is sad that there are still First!!!

My brother was a math whiz, and had a 4 year scholorship to a Southern University, maintained a 4.0 the whole time. Then he just quit school with only one semester to go!!! Never went back and never talked about why he quit..

He retired as a K-Mart shoe dept manager, but remembering my own experiences, I have a very good idea of what happened.

Welcome back we have missed you..

Hathor said...

DW Jazzlover,
I think the pressure and sometime the possibility that one would spend so much energy and still not be able to compete, took it toll on a lot of Black people in that time. I had a cousin who after graduation, expatriated to Sweden.The family thought he would be the next Ralph Bunch, but he worked quietly as a translator.

Also, on more than one occasion a Black person determined my fate.

I really get annoyed at people including Blacks who thought that we were never ready to compete.

I saw Ward Connerly say that the drop in enrollment in the California State University system was due to Blacks students not being prepared. Doesn't occur to him, that unlike him, some Blacks don't want to be where they are not wanted.

Must get off my soap box now.