This is the St. Albans Citizens Band, together with what must have been a hastily assembled chorus, at a rehearsal for a Bicentennial concert. Thus the picture was taken in the summer of 1976. This is not the summer I came back. This picture was recently posted on Facebook, which is what brought me to make this post. I don't remember a single thing about the Bicentennial concert.
I recognize a few of the people in the picture. Mervin Kaye, who owned Kaye's shoe store and was the St. Albans mayor for a number of years, is the first chair clarinetist. Right in the center of the shot, with a trumpet in his lap, is Branch Warner, of the family that owned Warner's Snack Bar. Which is where I worked that summer. I'm in the row in back of Branch, four people to the right (to his left). I have some hair. Ed Loomis, the band's director, is the furthest to the right. Larry and Grace King are in the chorus, close to the door — Gracie is my godmother. Click on the picture to see it a bit bigger.
This was the summer between my high school graduation and the start of my undergraduate degree at New England Conservatory, and I was making milkshakes at Warner's and writing furiously. On a trip to a doctor's office in Burlington my father made, I purchased the Gradus theory textbook by Leo Kraft (as I was earning $1.75 an hour at Warner's, and I was flush, flush, flush I tell you! with cash) and I did me some learnin'. And even some sketchin'. I wrote some Hindemith-type fugues, and a few fantasias on Gregorian chant tunes — because the opening of Norman Dello Joio's third piano sonata is in the text, and the author identified the opening melody as derived from a chant. Many many years later the beginning of that chant accidentally became the head motive of John Mackey's Wine-Dark Sea. I seem also to have tried my hand at inventions. I must have been kind of cocky, since my sketches are all in ink. I also arranged my Gregorian chant fantasia for woodwind quintet, which goes to show I hadn't had any sense knocked into me yet.
Also, I played organ at my sister's wedding that summer. Note I'm not using the pedals.
The Citizens Band played weekly concerts on the bandstand in Taylor Park in St. Albans, and they were a very social affair for the members. People listened either from lawn chairs or from their cars, and at the end of every piece the people in cars honked their horn as a stand-in for applause — one of the few times I've known anyone to honk their horn as approval of something. Every once in a while we played an actual classical tune — Poet and Peasant Overture comes to mind (I remember making a "Franz Von Suppé Sales" joke) — and of course the experience of being in the mass of instruments and figuring out how they were used in a piece was valuable. Since I was going to be entering a program in music composition, after all.
The trombone section was pretty good, and I alternated between first and third — I had reasonably good high notes, but I also had an F attachment, giving me some extra low notes.
More than four years earlier, I was one of the eighth graders invited (as the entire class was invited) to do a day at the high school to see what a high school schedule of classes was like. We had already registered for high school classes, so it was kind of like a dry run. The science class sure was a long way from the band room.
Of course I was mad about music then, too. In sixth grade I had been given the privilege of playing in the high school district festival, and the music was so much better than elementary school band music that I kept (uh, stole) my folder of parts, got a reel-to-reel recording of that concert, and played along. Over and over. Oh, also, I was considerably smaller than the other trombonists. My sister would probably like to take this opportunity to mention, or complain, that I also played Bridge Over Troubled Water on our piano over and over and over. And over. It's in E-flat. Somehow my father was able to afford to buy a small electronic organ with an octave of pedals for me to play with (they probably hated it when I experimented on the pedals with the bass line from It Better End Soon on Chicago II). This being 1972 technology, eventually all the G-sharps stopped working. Also, some time around then, the piano in the house was tuned for probably the first time ever. The tuner noted that the piano was low by a half step, and retrospectively I'm glad I don't have perfect pitch. When I figured out Linus and Lucy on the piano, I played along with the TV in A. The tune is really in A-flat. Where the fingerings are far, far easier.
But as high school was looming, eighth graders had to get serious about their upcoming schedules and sign up for classes. My father was insistent that I take the drafting class because I needed to start getting skills for, you know, making a living. Unlike, say, music. Which was fine, but the class met at the same time as band, so on my mock day, the music teachers wondered why I wasn't doing any music class. Apparently my reputation preceded me. I had pretty much resigned myself to not doing music any more, or at least not doing music much. Because you know, marketable skills. In the elementary school final concert in eighth grade I played 25 or 6 to 4 and Colour My World on trombone, with the music teacher at piano and Jim Hoy on drums. I had figured that was my swan song, even though I didn't know what that meant at the time.
That summer I started playing in the St. Albans Citizens Band and the Enosburg Band — my father's friend Carl Eller played sax in that band and he gave me rides to the gigs (20 miles from St. Albans). So inventions, fantasias, fugues, milkshakes, and community band. Oh, and Carl also gave me a badass shortwave radio, which obsessed me for a little while.
And this summer is when everything changed. I had had such a great time playing in those concerts, making friends with grown-up musicians, figuring out orchestrations from context, and cracking bad music jokes that I decided I loved music too much to leave it. And especially to leave it for a drafting class. So I negotiated with my father — he knew how music-obsessed I was, and he okayed me taking band instead of the drafting class, as long as before I graduated, I took the class.
So I came back. Discovered that the band uniforms were wool, and I'm allergic to wool. So I had my special pair of band long johns, which were kind of a nuisance for the warmer gigs (such as marching in the Dairy Festival parade). We marched in the Veteran's Day Parade every year, and I was always in the front row on a corner, because slide. Also, it's kind of cold in Vermont in November, and I remember one marching practice where it was cold enough to freeze my slide in place. Luckily I knew the music well enough so I could determine where the notes of the B-flat harmonic series would fit in.
On the first day of classes of high school, Verne Colburn, the band director, welcomed me "back", and within a week he noticed I was not tonguing right — the way my jaw moved when I played was the clue. For four years I had never tongued a single trombone note. I essentially did paw, paw, paw when I played rather than ta, ta, ta. Then at that moment I became an actual trombone player, even though it felt weird for a while. Especially because it meant I would eventually be able to double tongue. Though I guess I had four years of experience getting ready to play Papageno, should I have needed to.
And of course there were the music festivals. Vermont All-State and All-New England. I entered Vermont All-State's composition competition with a piece for my high school band, and it lost. Then in my senior year, I won. With a different piece. To the right is a picture of all the All-State competition winners in 1976 (most of them for performance, but most of the front row for composition), and I am sitting just left of center in the front row, not knowing that I was going to marry the woman on my left in a little more than thirteen years.
1972 was thus the summer I came back. I have to credit the St. Albans Citizens Band, the director Ed Loomis, and the excellent and fun musicians in the band for helping me convince myself that music was really my thang. Yes, I am still in music because of a community band. Oh, and as it turns out, I might earn more now than I would if I had a job that required drafting skills.
I never took that drafting class.