The Marching Contest

My discordant music career started with subjugated piano lessons when I was a young boy. Lacking natural talent or innate desire, I was nevertheless forced to practice 30 minutes a day by a well-intentioned mother who was convinced her son was a latent musical prodigy.

Later on, in grade school music class, I was introduced to other instruments and encouraged to pick one that appealed to me. I was interested in the loud, brassy trumpet; however, there was the possibility I was to get braces on my teeth; so I was told a reed instrument would be a better choice (I never got the braces). Regrettably, I chose the clarinet; knowing only that some cat named Benny Goodman made it sound cool.

Before I knew it, I had my very own clarinet and a case with velvet lining and four uniquely shaped compartments for the pieces to fit into. I also had a thin wood reed which I had to soak in my mouth before clamping it onto the mouthpiece.

I quickly discovered to my horror the pleasant, melodious tones I expected to produce were, in fact, shrill, ear piercing squeaks that sent shock waves of epileptic spasms through my body. In a very short time, I came to despise that instrument of sonic torture and was humiliated anytime I was asked to recite in the school band.

In 1975, I was a freshman at Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas, VA and a member of the marching band. I had a goofy uniform with a q-tip helmet and white spats which I wore while performing at football games. I was relieved when I realized I could march the routine and just pretend to play.

The last event of the year was a big marching contest for schools all over the state. Some of my delinquent friends decided it would be fun to sneak cans of beer into our instrument cases. After our performance, we were allowed some free time so we headed back to the bus to drink our beers. This was a ridiculously stupid thing to do as we were caught when the bus driver returned. Fortunately, we had consumed most of the evidence which prevented total disaster.

When we returned to school, we were all taken to an office and informed we were being kicked out of the band. Luckily for me, my parents were being transferred to California and I was leaving the school anyway, so I was able to avoid telling them what happened. After we moved, I convinced my parents I had outgrown the reed spitting, ear splitter and we donated it to another music program.

By this point, the hormones were raging and I was already practicing with my skin instrument.

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