Our Queens New York High School concert band was once city-wide champion—but that was long before my tenure . . .
How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?
Truthfully, I joined the band because I thought band practice was a great way to avoid some classes. But it turned out the price was steep. Like waking up at dawn to get to 7 a.m. music lessons and band practice. And taking private lessons with old Mr. Fontanello who smelled like garlic.
Mr. Fontenello also rented and sold instruments to aspiring band kids and their gullible parents, an Italian version of the Music Man. He sold me my trumpet, a shiny brass beauty with chrome accents.
I treasured my trumpet and its plush blue velvet-lined case. Every time I took it out of that case, for a brief moment I felt like a real musician. But in reality, I never mastered actually playing it. For a long time my sound was something akin to giant burps mixed with squealing pigs. At least with time, I slowly improved to the point where my father wasn’t constantly asking “Are you done practicing yet?”
The Big Night
My lackluster band career ended in my senior year when everyone who persevered in band class til then got to play in the final band concert of the year. On that big night we played a bunch of traditional band tunes, although honestly, relegated to “third trumpet” I mostly sat there in uniform just looking like I was playing. Mr. Leuschner, our band leader (on the right in the photo below), didn’t want wannabes like me detracting from the “real musicians.”
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The evening finally ended with a show-stopping rendition of Wagner’s Der Meistersinger—along with some additional unplanned entertainment . . .
During the song’s rousing finale, everyone on wind instruments got to blow their brains out with kettle drums pounding. It was just then that my friend Larry who sat behind me and liked to lean back on his chair, went toppling over “feet in the air” backwards off the back of the podium—along with his giant tuba. The audience saw a flash of brass and thought it was part of the show.
And that marked the end of my less than stellar stint in my High School band.
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But my band experience provided one of the bright spots of all my High School years (and ultimately my life): meeting my friend Bruce. Bruce played the clarinet and he was pretty darn good. We bonded quickly and I really liked him. We hung out a lot and he introduced me to his other friends. After high school, he introduced me to Joyce, my first wife and the mother of my two fabulous kids.
Bruce and I went our separate ways in college, me to NYU and him to Long Island University. We eventually drifted apart. But happily we reconnected nearly 45 years later through classmates.com. We met for lunch with our wives in Georgetown, a quaint old gold mining town in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. While catching up on the last 45 years, he told me about his short stint as a New York public school teacher after graduating from college. After school one day he went out to his car and found all four of his tires slashed. He decided then that teaching wasn’t for him. He spent the rest of his career as a government accountant. I agreed that it seemed a safer choice.
It was a glorious sunny Colorado day when we met, and although our time together there was brief, it’s very precious to me. Bruce was a sweet kid and the years had not burnished that out of him. We have kept in touch since then, checking in with each other from time to time. I treasure our friendship.
So I guess maybe band wasn’t so bad after all. Even though I never did master my shiny brass beauty.