A Life without music …


I cannot imagine a life without music, can you?

I remember the first time music really touched me. I was at my Grandmother’s house and she sat down at her Thomas theater organ and began to serenade us. I wasn’t even in school yet but my life changed that day. I fell in love for the first time … with music.
I used to carry a book everywhere I went but this was a totally different kind of relationship.

As long as I can remember, I’ve sung. Be it in Church choirs during elementary school as a descant soprano or to the chords of my guitar. To a song on the radio or on my stereo … it didn’t matter where the music came from. When my Grandmother would play her organ, I would sit beside her on the bench and sing … I miss those days … the memories are wonderful.

When I was in the 4th grade, I joined the school band. My parents rented a clarinet for a while and eventually bought one for me. The band director was Mr Mayo and I don’t really remember much other than he was SO tall that he didn’t need a podium … and the song American Patrol by F.W. Meacham became an everyday thing as I squeaked and squawked my way through it. I’m sure we played other music, but that is the one that stands out in my memory … maybe because the clarinets have such a good part in it.

It was probably the summer between 4th and 5th grade that I stayed with my Aunt and Uncle from Virginia. We spent days at their house at Sandy Point on the bank of the Potomac River where on a clear day, you could look across the water and see Maryland. We spent other days in Richmond, me swimming in their pool or shooting pool on the table in the basement. Then we spent weeks in Whispering Pines, a golfing village in North Carolina. I got to drive the golf cart around … up to the clubhouse every morning to buy the newspaper and around the yard … just for fun. The house had a front porch and on that porch, a rocking chair. I used to sit in that chair and sing, my bare feet propelling the chair back and forth. When it got dark, I had to go inside … but that was okay because in the small living room, there was this big cozy swivel chair and there I would park and the singing would continue. One evening, my Uncle called me into the den and asked me which I wanted for Christmas … a guitar or a ukelele. To be honest, I thought he was joking but I asked for the guitar and when Christmas rolled around, there under the tree was this huge box and inside … the best guitar I had ever seen … not that I had ever seen one up close before. My Uncle never got a chance to hear me play it … he passed away the next year and I couldn’t bear to play it because of the memories.

My parents invested in a piano … I think I was in the 6th grade by then … and while my mother could play it and my father’s booming baritone voice could sing along, I started lessons … it would seem that being able to play by ear wasn’t good enough … but it sure was fun to surprise people with a tune. I really hated piano lessons back then … while other kids were out riding their bikes or playing 4-square or catch … I was inside playing, or trying to play music by composers I had never heard of. No popular tunes for me … just Chopin, Beethoven, Clementi, Haydn, Bach, Brahms and the like. Little did I realize that later on in life, those names would be reclaimed and added to a growing list of other classical composers. Memorizing compositions and playing recitals became a part of my life too and while at the time I complained bitterly, it set me in good stead for high school … but I’m getting ahead of myself. My first piano recital piece was the Sonatina in C Major by Clementi.

Junior High School brought lots of new musical challenges my way. The band director was a retired US Navy man who was in Pearl Harbour the day it was attacked … December 7th 1941. He didn’t talk about it much other than to say he was one of the lucky ones. He was stationed on the USS Arizona, but had shore leave and was on his way fishing with a buddy. I had a tremendous amount of respect for him and learned a lot from him. Because of him, I learned how to play the bass clarinet and continued to do so through high school. Junior high band brought with it, district and state solo and band competitions and marching in the Gasparilla Day Parade for the first time. I don’t remember the band taking part in pep rallys or football games though … but that doesn’t mean we didn’t … only that my memory has faded.

High school … C. Leon King High School … Tampa, Florida and I will never forget the amazing memories collected there. They range from smelly old band uniforms through all the hard work raising money to buy new ones. Selling chocolate bars that to this day if I see or smell one, I hold my breath, and car washes and all sorts of other things. Opening day of Disney World in October 1971 when Meridith Wilson was the band leader and more than 76 trombones hit the counterpoint.
The Disney Parks blog
, describes this event, thus:

A highlight of the parade took place when the Herald Trumpeters of the United States Army Band lined the top of the buildings on Main Street, U.S.A., to signal the arrival of a 1,076-member marching band. This line of marching musicians, directed by “The Music Man” composer Meredith Wilson, stretched from the park’s main entrance all the way to Cinderella Castle and played “76 Trombones.” A mass choir then appeared on the castle stage to join the band in “When You Wish Upon A Star.”

District and State solo competitions where most of us who took part achieved superiors every time were great fun and added medals to our letter jackets. Friday night football games no matter what the weather were an experience you have to see to believe. Our band director, Mr Thomas T. Luter didn’t have it easy as he had to plan the half-time show and music as well as persevere while we stumbled through learning it. There was also a marching band competition and I remember “Ceremonial Music” a regal piece where we entered the field in slow motion and I laid aside my bass clarinet and carried a herald trumpet.

Where concert band was concerned, many pieces spring to mind … “Trittico” by Václav Nelhýbel, “Music For Prague 1968” by Karel Husa which I had the honour and pleasure of hearing heard at a concert in Prague in 2008 and subsequently blogged about and “British Eighth March” by Alonzo Elliot.

My love for music has continued throughout my life and I now sing with three choral groups. The Plymouth Phoenix Choral Group (music director: Marcus Leeverson Alleyne), Music of the Night Choral Foundation (music director: Marcus Leeverson Alleyne) and The Callington Singers (music director: Graham Williams). All three of these groups have concerts within this and the following two months.

The Plymouth Phoenix Choral Group – June 21st at St Andrews Church, Plymouth
Music of the Night Choral Foundation – July 12th at The Guildhall, Plymouth
The Callington Singers – August 3rd at Truro Cathedral, Cornwall (morning and evening service)

On top of singing, I am also a DJ online with quite an eclectic taste … apart from Gangsta and Rap. My life would not be the same without music and I owe a heartfelt thanks to not only the members of the bands and choral groups I have had the honour of playing or singing music with but also to the musical directors: James Mayo, JT Lenoir, Thomas T Luter, Marcus Leeverson Alleyne, and Graham Williams.

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3 Responses to A Life without music …

  1. Andrew says:

    Hi Chris
    That really is a most interesting and enlightening read. You have had some great experiences, and worked with some superb musicians.

  2. Karen Cooke says:

    Reading about your musical childhood brought back a lot of happy memories for me. As a child, I and my sisters would often gather around my father playing the piano and each taking it in turns to sing. Or all of us together singing ‘Carolina Moon’. A lot of children today do not have that lovely experience of being together as a family and enjoying music.
    My only regret is never learning to play an instrument or reading music properly.
    You are talented and can play as well as sing. I just sing, but love it.
    Music of the Night Choral Foundation

  3. Bobby Reed says:

    I wouldnt be the person today either without the instruction for trombone from T,J Lenoir in which i learned trombone in junior high school at sligh jr high in tampa . rose to first chair and stayed until 12th grade with tom luder which encoureged me to play piano. so I taught myself and also supported the creation of synthesizeing. so II borrowed a friends moog model D and was the first to use it on the song rockford files in a live fooeball game in a marching band no less. it had never been done so I guess I ws the first. so I owe so much to JT. Lenoir as well as Tom Luter. they made me what i am today as well as John Acosta as well. Thank you for the memories and yes I remember when Jt lenoir told me how he was driving down the runway after a rehersal when the raid started and how lucky he was. he stated he didnt even have time to get his horn in the case when it happened.so to you thank you for keeping there dreams alive

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