My First Music Lessons

My love of music should be very apparent to those who read this blog.  I have written about some of my school band experiences, about some of my favorite musical artists, posted songs that hold special memories for me, and about my career playing music on the radio.  One thing I haven’t written about is my first musical instrument and the wonderful teacher who taught me.

When my boys were in elementary school, they each bought a recorder and in their music class, they learned to play it. I don’t recall ever buying one, but I remember in 5th grade, before we all got the opportunity to try an instrument, we all played a recorder.  We played Mary Had a Little Lamb, Hot Cross Buns, and other simple songs.  Eventually, we got to try out to be in band and I wound up playing the trumpet.  This, however, was not my first instrument.

Grinnell’s

When I was a kid, there was a store in Macomb Mall called “Grinnell’s Music”

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Grinnell’s was founded in 1879 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Their headquarters was eventually located on Woodward Ave. in Detroit.  At their peak, they had about 40 stores.  They sold pianos and organs.

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(Interesting note:  The Titanic was a ship on the White Star Line!)

I wasn’t sure, but I thought they sold band instruments, as well.  The following ad, confirmed my memory.

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I had to laugh because I really don’t remember seeing appliances like refrigerators and washers in there!

I probably should have got some clarification from my dad on this before I blogged, but I can’t recall if I asked to play a musical instrument or if they decided to have me take lessons.  I am sure he’ll let me know if he remembers.  At any rate, I remember going in to Grinnell’s and being signed up for lessons.  My mom took them, too.

I am unclear on the date I took lessons, but I can narrow it down to somewhere between 1976-1980.  Again, my memory is fuzzy on this.  I remember starting when we lived in Sterling Heights, so that had to be 1976 (we moved to Warren in winter 76-77).  I also remember it being before I started playing trumpet, which would have been in 5th grade – 1980.

Organs must have been cheaper than pianos, because that’s what I started out playing.  I remember my teacher was the sweetest lady – Mrs. Bostick.  She was so patient with me.  I remember she gave me stickers to put on the organ keys to start with.  I learned to play simple songs, and remember how hard it was for me to reach the pedals on the floor.  I remember learning some scales first.  I remember learning how to play chords (even though there was a cheat on the organ that let you play chords with one finger).

The organ we had was this huge Hammond, as I remember.  I tried to find a picture of it at the house, but couldn’t really find a good one.  It looked something like this:

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The white square above the top row of keys were for rhythms to accompany you.  It was basically a drum machine.  You could hit “Big Band/Swing” and it was this jazzy drum and cymbal lick.  There were other “styles” as well.  Here is an older model and you can see the different styles.

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The red, yellow, blue, and white “toggles” to the left on that organ picture were “Voice Tabs”.  When you pushed down one of these, you could make the sounds of a trumpet, cello, strings, and the tibia (a word which still makes my friend Johnny Molson and I think of Jerry Lewis in the Nutty Professor).

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The first few months of lessons were basically teaching me which fingers to use on which keys.  There were scales, and practice pieces that I had to learn. Eventually, we added songs to the practice material.  Naturally, we learned Mary Had a Little Lamb and Hot Cross Buns!  I remember playing Chopsticks, and a few other easy songs.  I remember playing Christmas songs and Amazing Grace, too.  The one I remember the most was “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms”.  You may not know the song by name, but if you grew up with Bugs Bunny, you’ll remember it as the song that he keeps playing the wrong note on.

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It’s one of the few songs I can still play on the piano/organ.

Mrs. Bostick was always such a nice lady.  We became fast friends.  We made each other laugh.  She always told me how special I was.  She always told me I had a great smile and told me that I was a natural musician.  Most of the lessons were done at the Grinnell’s store.  I do, however, remember her coming to the house for lessons as well.  I remember she used to pray with me after the lesson was over and then ask for a hug.

I remember how sad I was when she told me that she was moving away.  Her husband was a pastor, and I am not sure, but I think he had taken a job at a church in Sacramento, California.  We wrote each other often for years after she moved.  She always sent a Christmas Card.  She wrote to me and my mother.  Mom wasn’t always good about writing back, when her dad (my grandpa) passed away in 1981, mom had severe depression.  The last thing she wanted to do was write letters.

As the years went on, Mrs. Bostick continued to write to me.  She loved that I was in band and playing trumpet.  She always told me to practice my scales!  She sent me such a nice letter when I graduated high school.  Sadly, that was misplaced in a move.  She offered many words of encouragement to me as we dealt with my mom’s breast cancer.  She always put my mom on the prayer list at church.

I remember how sad I was when she started typing her letters, because her hands hurt so bad.  Because of that, she could no longer teach music, and this made her very upset.  She always wrote and told me about her sons and daughters.  She came to visit them in Michigan every so often.  The last time she and her husband were here, it must have been about 2003.  I remember they were staying at an Extended Stay Hotel and I visited them there and had my oldest son (who was still a baby) with me. That was the last time I saw her.

One of her last letters to me informed me of her husband’s passing.  It was one month before my mom passed away.  When mom passed away, I called Mrs. Bostick to tell her. She was so surprised to hear from me.  She told me about how her husband passed away, and then I told her about mom.  We cried together.  She told me how much she loved my mom and me.  She said she could not believe that big voice was coming from her favorite student!  Before we hung up, she turned the tables on me.  Normally, she would be the one to pray, but this time she asked me to.  That was one of the hardest prayers I ever prayed.  Before she hung up, she thanked me for calling, told me she loved me and to keep in touch.

Letters continued sporadically, but due to changes of address for me and her, I lost touch with her.  Almost a decade later, I did and internet search for her and came up with nothing.  When I searched for her husband, I saw that he had an obituary on Find A Grave’s website.  It was there that I saw that she had passed away, too.  I wish I had some sort of contact info for her children, as I would love to reach out to them.  I tried to search for them on Facebook, with no luck.

She was a very special lady.  She made learning music fun for me.  She got such great joy teaching me how to play.  I really wanted to be in band because of her.  She told me that making music always made people smile.  I know that to be true.  I also know that making music made ME smile.  It’s one of those things I wish I could still do, but my schedule doesn’t allow me to.

Today, many keyboards are light and portable.  Many of them are so advanced that they  will play entire songs for you at the touch of a button.  Back when I was a kid, however, I learned to play music on what was literally a huge piece of furniture and was taught by one of my dearest friends!

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Somewhere at home I have a Polaroid of Mrs. Bostick and her husband.  She sent it to me in a Christmas card years ago. Sadly, I have no pictures of us together.  I am almost positive that she had her husband take one of us together when they were last in Michigan.  I wish I had asked for a copy of it.

 

 

 

 

Things I Want To Do

I guess you could look at this blog as a “creative writing prompt”.  I was listening to something on the radio today and the voice guy said “What do YOU want to do, but just haven’t done it?”  Well, I jotted a few things down instantly and now I am listing them here.

1. Play my trumpet again

One of the things I truly wish I had time to do is play my horn.  I have often thought about going back and taking some lessons to get the chops back, but my worry would be finding the time to do it.  I miss playing it, even if it was just once or twice a year in Alumni Band.

I have friends who are still playing  their horns in various groups and play concerts.  There is something that was so satisfying playing in a group and making music together.  Third shift doesn’t really allow me to have time to practice, though, so I guess I’ll just pick it up every once in a while and play till my lips are numb – ha ha.

2. Teach

When I first went to college, they gave me some test.  The test was supposed to tell me what I’d be good at.  It said I’d be a good “special education teacher”.  I guess this made me mad, because while in high school, I toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher.  I thought I could teach music or elementary school.  I regret not pursuing that.

Occasionally, I have had the opportunity to teach at the college for the Sleep Program I was in.  I found that doing it only made me want to teach more.  A radio guy I know teaches a speech class at one of the local colleges.  I could totally do that.  I ACED my speech class in college!  I have been public speaking for almost 30 years – I know that I could do that.  I doubt that there is anywhere that would let a guy who doesn’t have a teaching degree teach.

3. Visit Italy

I’m Italian after all.  Of course I want to do this!  I have seen Italy in pictures and have always wanted to go.  There is so much to see, though.  I want to see Rome and see the things that the Apostle Paul spoke of in his Biblical Epistles.  I want to see Venice.  I want to take the obligatory picture of me “holding up” the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  I want to visit Sicily and the town where my grandparents were from.  Definitely on my bucket list.

4. Learn another language

I guess this ties in with #3 – in that I’d really love to learn the Italian language.  I know that there are various dialects and such, but I think it is a beautiful language.  I’d love to be able to sit and listen to some of those great Italian songs – being sung in Italian – and know what they are saying.  I would love to learn Spanish, too.  It is very similar to Italian.  They are both very romantic languages and I think it would be cool to learn it.

5. Build a home studio

I still do a lot of voice over work.  I do most of it at the TV station or radio station.  It would be nice to build a small little studio in our home to be able to sit and cut whatever voice stuff I need to.  I think that this would give me the opportunity to do more auditions for voice work.  I think that it would also give me the chance to make a little bit more money with my voice.

I haven’t a clue what equipment I’d need to do this, and certainly don’t have the money to do it either.  I don’t want to invest in this and buy cheap equipment.  I want to be able to produce a good product.  I’d love to be “the voice” of a radio station, but I’d never be able to make that happen with sub-par equipment.

6. Learn to dance.

Oh sure, I can do the slow dance thing where you hold your beautiful woman and sway back and forth.  I, however, would love to be able to do some sort of real dance.  Swing dance, tango, ballroom dance, waltz, etc.  I’d probably be a huge klutz and step all over my partner, but I want to try it.  I’m no Arthur Murray, but give me a few lessons and I’ll try to be his non-coordinated step brother – LOL.

7.  Conduct a band

One of the coolest things I got to do in high school was conduct the band.  Its been awhile, but we learned how to read a score and I know I could do this.  I would, however, want to pick the songs I’d like to conduct.  There were songs we played when I was in band, that have stuck with me all these years later.  While at my son’s band festival a couple years ago, we watched one of the other bands play not one, but two of the songs I played in band.  I could still hear my part in my head.  I could hear counter-melodies and percussion parts.  It was amazing how it took me back.  I would love to be a guest conductor somewhere.

One of the biggest thrills for me was standing on the podium and conducting my high school band classmates at my senior graduation.  I’ll never forget the song:  Tin Pan Alley.  It was a medley of old standards and it was full of tempo changes and such.  There is such a feeling of awe as you stand in front of a group of talented musicians and they are following YOUR lead.  I think it would be cool to do that one more time.

8. Hear one of my “songs” recorded

I have written a few songs.  Some of them out of a lot of hurt, some of them out of love, and some of them because I woke up and heard the lyrics and melody in a dream.  I have written songs about my grandfather, my first love, my mom, and just life’s situations.  I am not the world’s best writer of songs, believe me.  There are people who can craft songs that run circles around my stuff.

What I wish is that a good songwriter would look at my stuff and say, “If we tweak this”, “What if you said this instead”, “How about we try this as a minor chord instead”, or whatever!  I truly think that it would be pretty damn cool to hear someone record it – even if it is just a crappy demo!

9. Write a book

As I have said in a previous blog, I guess I tend to look at my blog as “the book” I want to write, and these blogs are the chapters.  I don’t know what I’d write about.  I have a Facebook friend who suggested I write about an actor who appeared in old movies.  I have another friend who says I should write about classic movies or radio.  I’ve often thought that I could write a children’s book.  Who knows.  I guess first I need to find more than a few minutes at a time to actually figure out what to say.

What are some things YOU want to do?