Symphomaniac or Inchoate Aspirations

21:06 September 12, 2014
By: Phil LaMancusa

(Sorry Charlie) you can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish. Q: So, who wants to play a musical instrument anyhow? A: Just about all of us. 

I myself am a veteran of musical instruments; mostly mismatches, miscarriages and mistakes. Fruitless fiascos culminating in comical conclusions of ineptitude realized. Disappointments and disillusionments at not being able to find the overt soundtrack of my life in real time. “Bummer, Dude.”

I come from a family of singers, have a fair voice and an audiographic memory — the ability to recall songs and lyrics. Quite naturally this was mistaken early on as potential propensity for instrumental virtuosity. Nothing could have been/ is further from the truth, proven time and again to my everlasting shame and chagrin.

I was put in the musical program in junior high school solely on my ability to tell one octave from another; and, after the shape of my jaw and overbite were assessed, I was handed a clarinet, told to practice and be ready to join the band.

With each squeak and squawk I elicited from that tortured woodwind, I could hear John Philip Sousa groaning from his grave. Alas, I was a crippled clueless clarinetist (not to mention the uber-bane of my seventh grade music teacher) by age eleven. But wait, it goes downhill from there.

With the advent of my ability to grow facial hair came the idea that a guitar would suit my temperament and affinities; for what better screams from the aura of a young adult strumming six strings than: “I am a thoroughly misunderstood and sensitive artist who needs to get laid more” (?) And following in the footsteps of musical tradition I ‘got me an old guitar from a pawn shop’ and set about articulating my angst.

Well, to make a long story longer, I learned my A, B, Cs and even Ds, Es and Fs, and there I sat lost with my short attention span and the inability to sing as slow as my ability to change chords. I could demonstrate for you what exactly I mean by that, but I’m haunted as it is by the looks of pity I provoked back then.

 Enter now the world of a young man (me), who had been to foreign climes — physically, mentally and spiritually; who had traveled the atlas and the astral; had wandered, freak flag flying, to face angels and demons alike. Did I hear you say “flute”? You must be psychic! Yes, as Pan, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Herbie Mann before me, I took the flute, first bamboo and then silver and lo, did achieve notes and octaves. My fingers found expression and voice and I played by dawn’s breaking to moonlight’s beam. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play anything recognizable to the common ear; oh sure, it all sounded celestial, but what was that I was playing?  Stuff and nonsense… cosmically melodious…. but…forgettable.

Congas – yes, congas — fun to play, but face it: nobody invites you over for a romantic evening saying: “oh, by the way, why don’t you bring your drums with you?” I sold them back.

In my middle years I settled upon tenor saxophone, which still sits in its case.  My goal was to be able to play backup for Aretha Franklin, Etta James and/or Otis Redding; I mean, I do have the music in me.

I realize that the vast majority of readers here have seen saxophones, heard them and probably enjoyed them as well. Have you ever held a saxophone? They’re heavy, that’s why you have to have a string around your neck, to hold them up (and to be able to use both hands). The big and little knobs, levers and buttons to hold down and let go to make intelligible music are as confusing as the outside of a Death Star Space Cruiser, AND you can’t see them when you’re trying to play. The mouthpiece is weird and you have to keep the reed tight and moist, your fingers are all stretched out and your head swimming from oxygen deprivation. Either I’m too small or this thing is too big and as I said, it sits in its case. If anything, I’ll take it out and practice on the street with a sign that says “Will STOP Playing For $$$.”

Fast forward a few years and see me answering the ad on Craigslist for a piano, yep, all eighty-eight keys of one. “A perfect Baldwin with seat and sheet music $350.” I paid three big guys a hundred bucks to move it up (5 steps) onto the front porch and it just about crippled them; a piano (even a small one) weighs about as much as a ’56 Chevy Bel Air.

After getting it tuned and buying every simple beginner and idiot’s music book, I discovered that learning to read music is akin to learning Coptic Russian while driving bumper cars. I made flash cards, labeled keys, studied DVDs and introduced my left hand to my right on several occasions….  My hands? Incorrigible. 
 The half-fast person that can easily take up any musical instrument and bring forth manifestations of musical, harmonious and pleasing-to-the-ear sounds is as common as the chimpanzee that can sit down at a typewriter and bang out: “In the beginning was the word and the word was ….”

The sad truth is that I know why I fail miserably when it comes to learning to play; I know that if I want to learn virtually anything, including musical instruments, I need fortitude, dedication, discipline, perseverance, and at some point, instruction; mind-sets that I have yet to muster/master and dimly perceive on my horizon.
My lesson would be to remember these directions:
 “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”------------------

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