13 February 2010


Our children played music in one of the 'after-school' music programmes that appear common in New Zealand, although I do not recall hearing of anything similar when I was young in California.  Our four attended the Papakura Saturday Music School regularly from, I suppose, about 1985.  The experience was excellent, in my opinion, although one, at least, of my offspring - who reads this blog - may beg to disagree.  Even that one, in any case, enjoyed, I believe, the involvement with other pupils, and although the instrument has changed as maturity has progressed, the instrument in question is still one with vibrating strings (do not leap to conclusions; pianos have strings as well :-)).

Music lessons are also a possibility - but lessons are boring.  One major reason we decided it would be well for our children to go the music school was that I think kids are more likely to respond to the social environment than to the strict one-on-one lesson context.  There would be - and was - time enough for lessons later.  At the music school, everyone started by learning to play the recorder.  The first year they were in a recorder ensemble.  After that they took up an orchestral instrument.  If they were interested, there was the challenge of music grades, and this is what both Helen and Adele did - with excellent results.

Anyway, the only sorts of music experience I knew as a boy were (1) lessons, and (2) school.  I did do a few lessons (piano and cornet) in Bakersfield - but soon was in some sort of ensemble in primary school, and in intermediate school - Years 7 and 8 - in the band (both in the bandroom and marching).

'Band' - 'Concert Band' as it was called at high school - was a regular enrolled class, and of course I enrolled.  My first encounter, at age 14, with Mr Becker, as I recall, went roughly like this:
"What instrument do you play?"
"Trumpet" (I didn't really know the difference between a trumpet and a cornet - and functionally there isn't much).
"Hmm...  we already have quite a few trumpet players.  How would you like to play the french horn?"
"Oh - OK.  Sounds fine, I guess." (I had no idea really what a 'french horn' was, I think)
"OK - here's a horn.  Take it home and learn to play it."
So I did, more or less.  It would be difficult to exaggerate the part that music played for me in high school.  My closest friends were all musicians.  I think perhaps that defines some of the difference between my friendship with David Bennum and Delmer Horn, on the one hand, and, say, Bob Seward, Lee Gunderson, Brandon Wentworth, and others, on the other.  David and Delmer were both musicians as well as science and maths students; the others were interested in much the same academic subjects as I - but they were not musicians.  Music was sufficiently important to me that, when I entered University, I seriously considered majoring in horn, rather than in astronomy.

So all through high school the rhythm of my life was intimately involved with music.  Things that stand out:
  • Concert band.  'Concert' because we played orchestral music but did not have a string section, so string parts were scored for woodwinds - clarinets, saxophones, for example.
  • Marching band.  We played at football matches, did formation marching on the field at half time, and so forth.  We were 'bussed to the 'away games.'  I played cornet in this, of course.
  • 'Pep band' - small version of the same for indoor sports - mainly basketball.
  • Brass choir.  5 or 6 of us played at a few things like Easter sunrise service (freezing in the graveyard).
  • Feather River Orchestra - yes, it really existed, though it wasn't a great orchestra.  Dr Patrick's wife was the organiser as she had her own harp!
  • And my mother's dance band - her on piano, Peter on clarinet, Robin on saxophone, me on cornet - and occasionally my father on drums.
And what I recall as the most wonderful high point of my high school music life: Chico State College's summer music workshop, or whatever it was called.  You had to audition to get in.  We practised all summer - June-August of eithre 1959 or 1960 - I don't remember which - and then did a final concert in the most beautiful park in the world - Bidwell Park in Chico.

When, in 1962, Edna and I were married, I didn't enrol in the University orchestra and had to return the University horn I used.  I did not play the horn again until 1989 - and that most wonderful event came about through the Papakura Music School.


Edgy said...

yes your right, I did not enjoy the music school much at all when I was young. however, your equally correct that it influenced me greatly and I have gone on to play the guitar, with some modest success at that instrument. Three years and one month as I write :)

In fact I've just made myself a slide and I'm having a go at slide guitar now, lots of fun.

I do wish I had had the character and wisdom to pay more attention and enjoy what I was being given when I was younger, story of my life really :)

But the music school and enforced practice (thanks mum) have certainly born fruit later in life. Thanks a lot dad! btw Ev noted that your dad played the drums! YES! vindication! (I just got a drum kit too :P )

John Thayer Jensen said...

But how do you know I was referring to you? Remember, I pointed out that the piano is a stringed instrument :-)

Yeah, I know you were probably the least engaged in the music part of it, but I think you enjoyed playing around with others. And of course there was your high point - playing the bongos to introduce the Renaissance recorder piece conducted by the Hairiest Man in Auckland! That was the peak of your career - and you were a percussionist!