Thursday, March 05, 2009

Remembering all those youthful music lessons

Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Moncton Times & Transcript
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Editorial Page

I've been doing some work with the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra recently. Their 2008-09 end-of-season concert will be held later this month in Moncton featuring blues artist Matt Andersen and Acadian quartet Les Muses. Working on the project has brought back all kinds of memories regarding my youthful involvement with music.

Like most kids, my first real exposure to music instruction was in elementary school. I have fond memories of music classes at École Aberdeen from Grades one to six and École Vanier from grades seven to nine.

Sister Lorette Gallant was my music teacher at Aberdeen -- the same Lorette Gallant famous for founding the Jeunes chanteurs d'Acadie. She was a very strict teacher who didn't suffer fools gladly, and one who demanded the best from her students -- and usually got it! She kept us in line, let me tell you! Looking back, she definitely knew her stuff, too, so we were wise to listen to her sage advice and teachings.

Back then, everyone was assigned the same instrument to play -- the recorder. To this day, I'm sure I could still play it. She taught us to read music and made sure we practised when we were supposed to.

My first memory of her was early in my elementary schooling when I was assigned to lead half the class in putting together a certain music piece. Sister Gallant assigned a smart girl in my class to lead the other group. I remember this like it was yesterday because Sister Gallant all but said she thought the other girl would beat me. I don't know if she was trying to psyche me out, but I took it as a dare.

While the other girl had her group play the piece straight through in unison, I had my team join in at different times. Not exactly the London Philharmonic Orchestra, but it was innovative enough to win the contest and beat out my nemesis. I can't even remember who the girl was, but I remember the challenge thrown at me by Sister Gallant as igniting quite a competitive spark!

Music class also consisted of lots of singing and theory. I learned to read music and to sing scales. My audition song for the school choir was "Frère Jacques", which apparently I passed with flying colours because I was admitted into the choir after that. I was quite the little singer before puberty hit, so I'm told. When I wasn't singing in the choir, I was singing along to an eight-track tape of Charley Pride's "The Snakes Crawl at Night" in the car.

One of my favourite school songs was always performed during the Halloween season. I can still remember "The Ghost of John" like it was yesterday: "Have you seen the ghost of John? Long white bones with the rest all go-o-o-one. Oo-oo-oo-oo-ooh... Wouldn't it be chilly with no skin on?" I wonder if they still sing it in schools these days? It would be a real pity if they didn't.

Music class during junior high school was a blast. We had the same teacher during all three years that I was there -- Guy Langis. He was an easy-going teacher who always seemed to be in a good mood. I'm not sure how he managed to hang on to his sanity some days, especially with an entire class of kids going through puberty and the fact there was no longer just one instrument to handle, but an entire orchestra!

I was a big kid, so I ended up playing one of the biggest instruments we had -- the tenor saxophone. The keying was almost identical to the recorder, believe it or not, so it was quite easy to learn. There was no singing during junior high school, but we had a lot of fun learning band pieces, including the "Theme from M*A*S*H", "Abide with Me" and my personal favourite, "William Tell Overture".

We played the "William Tell Overture" at the music festival one year and won the grand prize! It was great! We had the crowd on their feet and had a rollicking good time.

My first time on television was also because of my junior high school music class. We all wore white shirts and black pants and sat under the hot studio lights as we performed pieces to fill our 30-minute time slot. I never saw the show since we didn't have cable at home, but I wonder if there's an old tape of that hanging around somewhere? It would be fun to see.

These days, school bands are travelling everywhere -- not just across town to a music festival or to the local cable studio for an appearance -- but to New York and other large cities to compete in major festivals.

Things have certainly evolved since I was a kid and it's really nice to see. If you're into it, playing a musical instrument can stay with you for the rest of your life. After a few minutes of practice, I'm pretty sure that I could pick up where I left off 30 years ago on the tenor saxophone.

At home, my family wasn't very musical. I was the only one who played an instrument.

Certainly, the family dog didn't appreciate my musical abilities. Barney, a beagle mix, would come and sit down beside me as I practised my saxophone and howl like crazy.

So much for my fan club!

My instrument-playing days are long gone.

I don't really have the desire to pick up the sax again. Because of my sausage-like fingers, playing the piano is out, unless one finger is allowed to hit three keys at once.

I'll stick to singing in the shower.

Next concert: tomorrow at about 7:30 a.m.

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