Make Your Own Kind of Music

I consider it one of the great injustices of all time that I can't sing. Or to be more specific, that I can't sing on key. My grandmother on one side was an opera singer, and my grandfather on the other played in a band for almost half a century. By rights I should be musically gifted, but I guess my DNA didn't get the memo. I've loved music from as far back as I can remember. My parents had a decent sized record collection but I only remember them ever playing a few of them: the Clancy Brothers, the Kingston Trio and John Denver. I wasn't much impressed with any of them, though I liked the uptempo numbers well enough. My favorite record was called Bobby Vee Meets the Crickets, and it was basically a Buddy Holly cover album with Bobby Vee on the vocals. To this day when I hear a Buddy Holly song, it seems like the wrong voice. When I was old enough to be trusted to operate the stereo by myself, I began a record collection of my own. My first LP was a used "Hot Butter" album purchased for 25 cents at China Towne in Solvay. As David Cross would say, I played the shit out of that record. My second LP was Elton John's greatest hits, a birthday gift from Aunt Joanne. I didn't let the fact that I'd never heard of Elton John stop me from playing the shit out of that one, either. When I entered third grade I was eligible to take music instruction at school. For reasons long forgotten, I chose to study trumpet. My parents took me to a music store off Teall Avenue by Lyncourt Bakery to get my trumpet - a dented silver thing in a battered case lined with maroon velvet. Everyone else had gold trumpets, and so of course I pouted. I can only imagine what my parents sacrificed to get me that trumpet, and I had the nerve to pout. I really was a bratty little thing. Twice a week I'd get a half hour trumpet lesson from Mr. Mastroleo. I don't remember much about them other than he seemed generally unsatisfied with the effort I was putting in. I don't know if he was short on trumpet players or if he just didn't care, but toward the end of the year he asked me to join the school band. Band practice was at 7:45 a.m. and arrived at Webster School with my battered trumpet case in hand. I was scared. As I entered the building I could hear the far off, muted sound of instruments - scales and such. I walked to the room, opened the door, looked around at the twenty or so students holding flutes, clarinets, trombones, trumpets, a french horn and drumsticks and said "is this band practice?" It was a good two minutes before the laughter stopped completely. I wish I could say things got better from then on but they kind of didn't. I started out as third trumpet and moved up slowly but surely until in sixth grade I was first trumpet. My individual lessons we cut to once a week, but band practice was twice a week. We played at school assemblies and concerts for parents. Once a year we'd combine with bands from other elementary schools for a district-wide concert. Through it all I had a secret: I wasn't playing. I'd mime the mouthing and do the finger work but I wasn't playing. I was too afraid of making a mistake, because I just wasn't very good. After a concert I wanted to scream at Mr. Mastroleo "how can you not know I'm faking it?" but thankfully I never did. I still do sort of wonder what his answer would have been.

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