Thursday, March 18, 2010

Musician Stuff (kinda sorta), Pt. 8

What tender days, we had no secrets hid away
Well, it seemed about a hundred years ago

Picture this: Sicily, 1957.

Just joking. Picture a guy with a dream of going to college to study music. It's an economic dumbass move to be sure, but as Keith Richards said, "What the hell else am I going to do?"

My stepdad had this liberals arts college that was down south. Even though we went there, shook hands with many people, my grades were not good enough for me to get in. He ranted and raved, but in the end, West Virginia Wesleyan was my start. All my friends went to WVU or elsewhere, but a large university probably would have made me feel even more lost.

It was there that I first learned how little I actually knew about music. There was a course called Introduction to Musicianship. I remember sitting in this auditorium while Professor Schaffer played melodies on the piano and we were supposed to be writing them down.


Why don't transcribe from Greek to Hebrew while we're at it. Shit. I had no fucking idea what and how to do this. It seemed like magic. Needless to say, I barely passed that class.

My student tutor was a dick who played tuba. He was a sweaty, fat, high strung individual.
His contempt for my questions were obvious, but people underestimate my stubbornness and determination. I hated how little he made me feel sometimes, but that didn't stop me from asking away. I would knock away on the practice room door just to mess with him. He would usually yell something, trying to let me know that you don't interrupt practice, but I didn't care. I was not going to fail. Or at least try the fuck not to.

Overall, I think I was playing catch-up to the other students who seemed to already know music theory and could take music dictation. I was a twelve-string slinging folkie with a flannel shirt and blue jeans who wasn't likely to succeed. I bet my profs thought I wouldn't make it through the first year. Odds are, I would have probably bet against myself.

We all want to be the best. There were and always will be average strummers (We all feel like this sometimes.) who are found trying to be the center of attention at a gathering. For me, I entertained friends, usually with my beloved Aria twelve-string (sadly now broken), playing originals.

One of the few "public" performances I was involved in was at the student hall or whatever they called it. Someone yelled, "Face the audience!" because I had turned towards the other musicians. Fair enough, but I wasn't ready for prime time yet.

One night I jammed with a drummer. He was an older, more experienced player than me. Afterwards, he told me that I played some nice chords, but I needed to clean up - meaning articulate notes with greater accuracy. That was more than fair advice. I had a helluva lot to learn, but I had no one to show me a clear path to achieving these goals. Besides, I was kinda crappy as a music student.

* * *

Mrs. Dees taught Humanities. She was a voice teacher I believe. A very high strung person as well. Are we sensing a theme here? I can't really recall what we learned in there, except I think her main purpose was to throw out an idea and listen to us debate it. I could see the glee in her eyes when students began to bare their teeth at one another over some silly thought or another.

I did recognize in her a sense of fellowship. Most of the class were not music majors. There was a kinship, let us say.

One thing I have never had in common with music professors is their snobbery. One kid had loaned her Queen's A Night at the Opera. She returned it to him, adding "That's not opera!!" No shit, lady. The little brown nose also tried to impress with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Another no go. She made a deprecating remark about Keith Emerson's playing and how many classical players could play rings around him. Again, missed the fucking point. How many precious classical pianists write and perform their own music to millions of adoring fans? It's a wonderful art to interpret and perform timeless music that's already been written for you-quite another to write your own and go through the rock-n-roll machinery.

Dr. Loftis taught piano. I was in the basic piano class with two other students. We all probably gave the man fits because we were so awful and slow. One day though, I had a moment. There was a piece that allowed for some improvisation. The two students before me each took their turn. I was really excited because I knew that all my fooling around at home on the piano was finally going to amount to something. When my turn came, I went wild. I did anything and everything my plumber's fingers could play. When it was over, the kid next to me said one word: "Wow." He had that look on his face that I knew so well. Dr. Loftis smiled. I had had a good day. Maybe music was my thing after all. Didn't know for sure.

Dr. Shaffer was a poncy old fruit who taught theory and the dreaded Ear Training. He talked in a snappy, nasal voice like Paul Lynde. He gave no quarter. You got the grade based on results. One friend of mine wrote a funny song around the Shaffer beer theme substituting Dr. Shaffer's name. We ended up playing it for him. He was not amused. Perhaps the line, "when you wish you had a gun" was the kicker. Go figure.

I had no "applied instrument" as guitar was not taught there. So, for one year, I learned what I could about the mysteries of music using the guitar to play with other students, teach a few lessons and learn about other things - like keggars.

* * *
The local frat boys invited everyone over to their Bacchanalian Beer-a-thons. There I saw a crowd of college kids all join in singing "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Hey, are we in the south? I thought this was Buckhannon, not Savannah. Or watch bands where the bassist had only three strings playing covers of Aerosmith's Sweet Emotions. Audience participation included a rendering of some '70s funk tune whose chorus was, "Shit. Goddam. Get off your ass and jam." Ah college...the last burning embers of childhood.

There were lots of girls. Such pretty girls. Not that I had any skills. Oh no.

Let's say there were a couple of dry runs. Some ending comically. Some in just friends. One that ended in bliss.

How about we leave it there until next time?

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