The unrequited life of a pretend musician

Friday, May 9, 2014 Permalink 0

A few weeks back, Tommy J suggested I’d like the musical group A Great Big World.  He was right. I changed my Pandora station to select their music and bands with similar sounds.  Music influences my mood.  And my mood influences my music.  A Great Big World radio station is both uplifting and centering.  The music has a hopeful sadness about it.  I find myself pausing and leaning into the music like it’s a well-placed and comfortable perch.

Piano is the prominent instrument on this station.  As the songs become more familiar, I find myself playing along, especially at work.  I’ll push my computer keyboard to the side  to finger my imaginary keyboard.  In the moment, I’ll hit each note with a deliberateness and emotionality.  I virtually play beautifully.  I feel the melodies deep within my soul. And the music releases my passion.

The thing that people don’t know about me is my real career should have been a cocktail lounge singer.  I see myself in a smoky-filled gin joint.  I imagine sitting down to a piano and unleashing my melodious mayhem on the world.  I have *it*.  In the recesses of my soul, I have the intensity to sing the blues.  I have 50 years of painful revelations in love and loss.  These emotional passages are best expressed in a rhyming prose and heartfelt piano playing.  Here are the wrinkles:  I have a limited almost non-existent singing range.  And I can only play the first 4 stanzas of “Jingle Bells” on the piano.

When I was in fourth grade, I begged my parents to allow me to take music lessons.  Mr. Palermo had effectively wooed me during his band pitch.  He was a stoned version of Harold Hill from “The Music Man.”  I’m not sure how I picked the clarinet.  I feel more like it picked me like the hat sorting dorm assignments of Harry Potter fame.  I was thrilled to be a part of the school band.  I played 3rd clarinet.  Yep, there were only three clarinets.

I sucked. As much as I liked the classroom work and the concert circuit, I didn’t like practicing at home.  Even though my dad had found me a cozy nook in the basement storage room as my rehearsal space, I found it hard to designate daily time to advance my music.  Somehow, I limped along.  In every concert, I inadvertently would let out at least one notable squawk from a wrong note, wrong breath.  I was not good and everyone knew it.  So, of course, I was promoted to bass clarinet.

Someone found a bass clarinet in the St. Thomas School basement.  It was old, unreliable and unique.  The band leader thought I was the perfect person to transition to bass clarinet. I was just hoping I would be a natural aficionado without any effort. The best part of this bass clarinet was it’s capacity was limited.  When it was determined that it wouldn’t always hit notes -not because of any fault of my own-, I was given permission to fake it.  If I didn’t think the note was going to come out correctly, I was to ‘pretend play.‘  Well, that worked for me.  I ‘pretend played’ right into the Michiana honor band.

The best players at area schools were selected to play in the honor band.  And I was the only bass clarinet in the Elkhart-Mishawaka-South Bend area.  So, ta-da I was in the honor band.  My farcical playing ended in 8th grade.  Before I went on to high school, I gave up the illusion of being a musician.

Still, I wish I had picked the piano or the piano had picked me in my youth.  One of my past bosses, Frances Pace Barnes, used to tell me that in retirement she was going to learn to play the piano.  The idea sounded funny to me.  For one, I didn’t imagine her ever retiring.  Her life seemed to revolve around her job.  Second, why wait?  Third, isn’t retirement for goofing off?

I hope Frances learned to play.  I hope her piano playing is bringing her joy.  Me?  I’m going to continue to bask in my pretend musician lifestyle.  It matches my pretend singing voice.


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