It’s no secret that my first forty-plus years or so were totally wrapped up in music. Actually, it all started when my Aunt Mildred gave me my Cousin Jack’s drum sticks at the age of eight. You see, Jack and Uncle Bill were great drummers. So, my private lessons began when I was two years short of a decade, and continued through graduate school. There were tens of thousands of dollars worth of private, one-on-one instruction from all makes and models of teachers.
This blog, however, was intended to give you an idea about goal setting and accomplishments related to that end.
At age 15, my professional trumpet teacher in Pittsburgh informed me that it was time to prepare for the Carnegie Mellon Honors Band auditions. This 100+ member band was made up of only the area’s very best musicians. Literally hundreds and hundreds of music students from all over Western PA, Ohio and West Virginia converged on the CMU campus and stood in front of the region’s top teachers to compete for the highly prestigious positions available in this phenomenal band. For example, a couple of hundred trumpet players would vie for the 10 or so seats available to trumpet players.
So, what was the drill? First, those individuals who studied with the top music professors in the City of Pittsburgh had an edge. It was important for me to get a spot with Carnegie Mellon’s Anthony L. Pasquarelli who, for many years, was the most sought-after free lance trumpeter in Pittsburgh.
What else did it take? It took disciplined practice, hours and hours of practice. It took discipline to also keep from over extending myself during the normal, daily musical endeavors, i.e., don’t blow your brains or your lips out at the football game or the Thanksgiving parade.
The other very very big requirement was to select the proper solo. Typically, the solos were professional level, and required months to learn and then to memorize. Actually, the solos were usually written by Herbert Clarke, who is widely considered one of the greatest cornet soloists of all time. and, believe me when I tell you that this guy was a freak of nature. It was ALMOST impossible to even get through one of his solos.
Then came the intangible, development of self-confidence. Tony taught us how to appear self confident. He taught us how to carry ourselves when we walked into the room. He taught us how to take out our horns and look confident and self assured, and then, as a back-up, he insisted on our carrying in a glass of water in case we got dry mouth from nerves. We also performed in front of our peers for practice to help us get over the nerves thing.
When the day came, you stood in line for a long long time, went into the room, played pieces of your solo for the judges, and waited for a week or so to hear who made it.
Here’s the part that made music real: After three years of trying and trying, practicing and practicing for literally hundreds of focused hours and a total commitment of heart, mind and soul I took my best shot. After three years of work to make sure I had the right, professional trumpet, the best possible lessons (that were twice as much as we could afford), you were armed and ready. After driving back and forth to Pittsburgh every Saturday for three years and memorizing the impossible solos, you knew you were on the right track. After mastering my nerves and my ability to play the required music, the results came back three times that I had not made it. The last year, I believe that I made alternate. That meant that, if one of the kids on last chair got sick, I would have had a chance to get into the band. I never got into the Honors Band.
Why, you may ask? It was because of God or nature or fate. Talent was the only uncontrollable thing that kept me out. It might have been the fact that my teeth were a little crooked and my folks couldn’t afford braces. It might have been because I was the work horse of my high school marching band, and this all took place during football season when my lip felt like chopped liver most of the time, but, most probably, it was because at least ten of the players were just more talented.
What a great life lesson/s. Getting into that band was the single most important thing in my life at that time, and my efforts never were good enough to get me in. Practice was never the problem. Commitment was never the problem. Sensitivity to the music was never the problem. Pure, raw, unadulterated talent was most probably the problem. Regardless, the discipline, the persistence, the training, the hard work, the desire have all stayed with me for my entire life.
So, let me end by saying, "Keep music in the schools." It really can make a positive difference in plenty of lives, and it’s also good to remember that the people who don’t make all of their goals have plenty to prove the rest of their life. Hence, my total commitment to all of my jobs these past several decades. I’ll show those yum yums . . .