The Sound of Music

Photo by Quentin Ecrepont on

I have a wonderful memory from my childhood. It is the sound of one of our neighbors practicing on her clarinet. Back then few people had air conditioning so everyone kept their windows open allowing the noises of life in each household to reverberate through the neighborhood. The young lady was a several years older than I was and a member of her high school marching band at the local public school. She was rather good and I looked forward to hearing the melodious tones of her instrument each evening as she became more and more adept in her performances over time. I can almost still hear her even as more than sixty years have passed.

I went to wonderful parochial schools were I received a top notch education but music was sadly rather lacking. In junior high I was a member of a choir and we learned the rudiments of reading music, but mostly we just sang from a rote memorization of our parts. In high school I was placed on a track that precluded artistic electives. Instead my schedule was filled with extra languages, sciences, and mathematics. While I appreciate all of the knowledge that I gained in those years my one regret is that I did not have the opportunity to learn how to play an instrument. In fact the school did not have either a band or an orchestra. 

Creating bands and orchestras is an expensive venture even if the students rent their instruments. It involves a major investment in teachers, assistants, sound systems, music, acoustically designed rooms. My school had to choose between state of the art science rooms and what the powers that be saw as the frivolousness of music equipment. I suppose they wisely chose science but to this very day I wish that I had received an opportunity to learn how to play a clarinet or a piano or maybe a cello or violin. 

Some of my classmates took private music lessons but I was a “scholarship” student who earned my tuition by excelling in my classes. I was a kind of investment in the future for my school and music was not on the menu. Thus I only dreamed of having the skills to create lovely sounds like my neighbor did.

When I was studying to be a teacher I had to take a basic music class. We all had to purchase a recorder and learn how to play a few songs. I became quite adept at performing “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” and other ditties but that did not satisfy my longing to be a real musician. In the same class we had to master “Three Blind Mice” on a keyboard but my short stubby fingers struggled to reach between the keys. I would later learn that a truly talented music teacher knows how to find just the right instrument for each person. 

My eldest daughter signed up for band classes in intermediate school. She wanted to play the flute but was never able to get a single sound from that instrument. Instead she had a knack with the oboe and worked to master that instrument for three years. Because I had such a longing to play I invested in private lessons for her and hundreds of dollars in replacing broken reeds. The oboe was a difficult instrument but she slowly progressed and then found that if she continued with it in high school she would have to play with the percussion students during marching seasons. Because she was a talented dancer she chose instead to join the dance team and left her music behind. 

I became obsessed with the fact that nobody in my direct family actually played an instrument. My husband did bit on the guitar and my mother-in-law was somewhat accomplished on the piano but nobody actually excelled like that neighbor of my long ago. I longed to hear real talent from one of my own. I had a paternal cousin who made the keys on a piano sing like angels so I felt certain that somewhere in the complexities of genetics there had to be some DNA that would lead to great musical talent in my offspring and their descendents. 

Soon I had grandchildren and one by one they all chose to join the band in middle school with varying interest in continuing through high school. From those seven four became somewhat accomplished. Grandson Jack played multiple instruments from his time in band including brass, piano and guitar but he, like his mother, chose to follow a different artistic route in high school. Benjamin became a tuba player and enjoyed it so much that he stayed for the full band experience in high school where he ultimately became the Drum Major. Ian chose the cello and with each passing year he became more and more adept. He has a passion for music that shows in his incredible performances. He plays like an archangel. William is a violinist but he does not share the enthusiasm of Jack, Ben and Ian. Nonetheless I am overjoyed that some of my fold have so beautifully mastered the art of music. Finally the kind of beautiful sounds of my youth are being reproduced by my grandsons. 

If I had the opportunity to learn one more thing it would be to master an instrument. It would not matter to me what that might be. It would simply be wonderful to be able to sing to the heavens with my skill. As an educator I believe in providing all students regardless of income with a chance to play an instrument. I don’t really believe that an education is complete without at least a rudimentary introduction to such a competency We should all experience moments of rising heavenward with our music like my neighbor did with her clarinet. It is perhaps the most gloriously creative act that humans may do. The sound of music raises us all from the commonplace into the domain of angels.