Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Admitting Another Failure.

I don’t think I ever mentioned on this blog that I played the trombone in the school orchestra. And since my high school (bless its peasant roots) had only one trombone to its name, my role was to play all the base parts along with a girl called Jennifer who played the cello.

I’ve often wondered why I chose that particular instrument, since it has no mystique about it and is rarely associated with the word ‘soulful.’ I imagine it was because I’d played the bugle in the Boy’s Brigade and was, therefore, much practiced in the art of blowing raspberries into a cup-shaped piece of brass.

You know how to do a raspberry, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow. ~ To Have and Have Not (almost.)

The irony here is that, although the cello is very much associated with the word ‘soulful’, I played my trombone much more soulfully than Jennifer played her cello. But I have to offer a defence of the dear girl in that regard. Getting a good sound out of a cello requires manual dexterity, the ability to finely coordinate both hands, and the development of just the right ‘feel’ for the pressure of the bow on the strings. All you need to get an acceptable sound out of a trombone is the ability to blow a raspberry, which comes naturally to all young boys as a matter of genetic inheritance.

But still I had a problem with the instrument. My strength was my tone and expression; my great weakness was sight reading, which is why I would never have risen beyond the ranks of the school orchestra where tone and expression is of paramount importance, but the music itself is simple.

You might wonder at this point why I didn’t take up jazz where sight reading is of relatively little importance. It’s because I didn’t have a musical mind. And by a musical mind, I mean a mind which instinctively understands musical structures. I had an academic mind which did well at English, History, Geography etc, but not a musical one as required by exponents of jazz and high level folk. It’s a little understood gift, but a rare and singular one.

After I left school I took up the guitar instead and learned to strum and finger pick simple three chord riffs. My reward was to become the minstrel for the group of school friends who liked to play at being hippies during weekend camping trips. When I stopped being a part time hippie, my musical career was over.

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