18 February 2024

Fourth Time's a Charm?


In fourth grade — or perhaps it was a fifth grade as my mind is a little hazy on exact dates — I started playing the clarinet. It wasn’t my first choice… It wasn’t my second choice… It wasn’t my third choice… In fact, it wasn’t my choice at all!

A few years before this time, my father had bought my mother a piano. To this day I’m still not quite sure why. I never actually saw her playing it and I wonder a bit if it was originally some kind of peace offering. But, whatever the motive, it eventually just became another piece of household furniture. However, not before I had to suffer through two painful years of piano lessons. To be fair, I’m sure the teacher disliked me less than I loathed my sessions with her. In hindsight, I can say that never took well to instruction. Maybe those two years had something to do with it.

Being a pianist at any level was not in my future, but I did eventually want to join the school band. So, dutifully, my mother took me to a musical instrument shop where the proprietor asked me what instrument I wanted. I said proudly — because I had been dreaming of this moment for days, if not weeks — I said: "A trombone!" He looked me up and down as if fitting me up for something uncomfortable, and drolly stated: “Your arms are too short.” Crestfallen I was. He then asked what my second choice was. Second choice? I had no second choice so sure I was of walking out of his stupid store with a brassily gleaming bazooka of a horn. But, suddenly it came to me: "A bassoon!" He looked at me dolefully and said “We don’t carry those in this shop.” Doubly crestfallen I was, but, waving away my disappointment, he persisted: “What’s your third choice?” What? A third choice…hmmm…okay "An oboe!" said I. Looking at me as if I was the biggest pain in the ass since that last kid who came into the shop, he exclaimed, with proper authority, “That’s too complicated for you.” I didn’t know what to say at that point and was on the verge of giving up when, he — ever helpful chap that he was — said “play this” and he handed me a clarinet. Mind you I have never had anything against the clarinet. In fact, I quite enjoy hearing it played, especially by somebody who can ... ah ... actually play it. But it was not my first, second, third, nor even my fourth choice and yet here it was: black and white with shiny polished keys and in my hands. Defeated but still glad I was going to join the band — at least for the next four or five years (again dates are a bit fuzzy) — my parents put up with my squeaking and squawking and squonking. Somewhere around the eighth grade I finally hung up my clarinet and added "professional musician" to "stand-up comedian," "football quarterback," and "astrophysicist" to my growing list of as 'careers I shall not pursue.' Sadly, perhaps, though for whom one is not quite sure.

Is there a moral to this tale? If there is, perhaps it is: rejection may build strong character, but not necessarily strong lungs nor a sense of rhythm.