A couple years or so back, an acquaintance of mine related one of her music teaching misadventures, with a student she referred to as "having a high IQ and a contrastingly low musical talent, all the while imagining himself adept at the art of violin composition, when he was, in fact, WMD to the ears".
I would assume that meant Weapon of Musical Distortion.
If so, this acquaintance could have easily been referring to me in my youth. Save for the high IQ part.
Years and three concussions later, I kind of recall being the learner of a musical instrument. Introduced to me as the violin, I also knowd it in southern vernacular as a fiddle. Despite living in Iowa, I stubbornly clung to the 'fiddle' as identifier, considering it to sound less sissified, and besides, calling it that drove my music teacher nuts.
This, I was good at.
After I got past the usual childhood urges to use the fiddle to shoot arrows with distinct, discordant TWANGs, or employing the bow in stirring reenactments of Errol Flynn vs Basil Rathbone sword play, I settled down to learn how to make the dog howl, the cat's hair stand on end, and my siblings grit their teeth.
That was the easy part.
Why a fiddle, you might ask? My initial inspiration came from the Three Stooges (pictured); later, from Tommy Smothers, watching him deftly handle his fiddle during the Smothers Brothers TV show. The thing looked so much bigger on TV; in fact, about as big as he was. But at that age, so did mine. Anyway, he was on whom I modelled myself after.
My instructor, of course, forever tried to pervert my inspiration: put the thing on your shoulder, she'd insist. I'd cite Tommy Smothers as my example for otherwise, and she'd just tell me to shut up, hold the fiddle...dammit..the violin properly, and stop calling it a fiddle.
That always hacked her off.
Then, as in the undoing of Puff the Magic Dragon, something started going terribly wrong: I was getting bigger. My fiddle didn't. My back was killing me, having to stoop over further and further to play the thing the way it was meant to be played. It was disconcerting to find that the way my instructor, so pigheadedly insisted I play it, was starting to make some sense.
Gradually, I masterd the art of the fiddle, and lived my single greatest musical moment in 1988, getting to play the distinctive fiddle solos during the more poignant moments for the soundtrack of the movie Beetlejuice. That proved to be my high-fiddle mark, and I gave it up for other pursuits, like tornado chasing and falling out of trees while gathering firewood.
Long after those heady, high-strung days, I've become somewhat more worldly, erudite, culturally barbaric and flatulent. And despite all that, I've come to the conclusion that it's time to tell the unvarnished and rosined truth about my musical acumen:
-- it was really a devastating lack thereof.
-- fact is, much like Tommy Smother's onstage schtick...I lied; it was my sister who played the violin and made the dog howl, cat wince, et al.
-- it was Dickie Smothers who played the fiddle, not Tommy.
-- It wasn't really a fiddle, it was a base fiddle, which tended to explain why Dickie never put the thing under his chin to play it.
-- I didn't really play the background fiddle in the Beetlejuice sequences, though a couple times I swiped my sister's fiddle and made it sound kinda like a frozen cat being trimmed with a chainsaw, sorta.
Truth is, in my elementary school days, I played a trumpet, just like Herb Alpert.
Well okay, so I played a trumpet like Herb Alpert's.
Okay, so it was a trumpet, designed kinda like Herb Alpert's.
Okay, so it would have sounded like a trumpet played by Herb Alpert, if Herb Alpert were playing it.
At least the two did have in common a spit valve; and I was very good at clearing that.
Well okay, so I didn't clear the spit valve as professionally as Herb Alpert.
At least I know I was better at one thing than Herb Alpert was with a trumpet: annoying the snarf out of my music teacher. Not only could I clear the spit valve with authority and in something kind of akin to E flat, I told her I could make my arm pit sound like a trumpet.
It sorta did, too, like when I'd noisily clear the spit valve.
Sometimes, I love remembering the past, even through the filter of three concussions. And I can ponder one day looking up my old music teacher, if she's still alive, and hoping that if she is, she lives where she can hear the sound of elk bugling. Because I'm sure it's torture for her.
See, she'll think it's me, noisily clearing my spit valve.
I'm glad I didn't have to put up with me, either.
Labels: what day in April is it?