Thursday, June 9, 2022

I Got the Music in Me

 You may or may not know (or care) that music was my career of choice. I was a good enough trumpet player to obtain a bachelor’s in music education, play three years in an Army touring band, and earn a Master’s in Performance from New England Conservatory. I wasn’t good enough to earn a living that would support a family, so when The Sole Heir came along, I found real jobs. It was a good trade for me, and, frankly, for music.


That doesn’t mean music doesn’t still have a role in my life. While music once  captured at least part of my attention most waking minutes, now it provides mental and psychological comfort zones.


Among the benefits of having been a musician was a broadening of my musical interests. My father listened primarily to country music; my  mother was more eclectic. (It was Mom who introduced me to Blood, Sweat, & Tears.) I played in big bands in high school and college, where I was also introduced to classical music. In the Army I played whatever they needed a trumpet for, which included marching band, concert band, jazz big band, brass quintet, Vegas-style review, and Dixieland band.


I also learned to appreciate excellence in any form. While I never played in bands that performed these specific kinds of music, I developed an affection for blues, rhythm and blues, roadhouse, zydeco, show tunes, Tom Lehrer, Alan Sherman, and whatever you want to call what Tom Waits does.


So what do I listen to?


Most often, nothing. The older I get, the harder it is to multi-task, and it’s often difficult to have music around me and not actively listen to it, which detracts from whatever else I’m doing. It’s not a great loss, as I am rarely without an ear worm, so I have music with me virtually every waking moment.


What comes to me as ear worms? Anything. In the course of a week the music in my head could range from Mahler to Maynard Ferguson to Merle Haggard to Tower of Power to Beethoven to Delbert McClinton to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to…you get the picture.


There are times when I want, or even need, certain music. Where do I turn when I want to listen to music as my primary activity?


Country takes me to a safe place, not unlike waking to the smell of bacon. I’m drawn to the songs that tell stories, and funny or self-satirical is fine with me.


For fun it’s either jazz (usually big bands: Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, Doc Severinsen) or rhythm and blues (TOP, Blues Brothers); Delbert McClinton sometimes serves as a bridge when I can’t make up my mind.


If I want to elevate myself, it’s usually classical. Listening to Mahler, Beethoven, Mozart, and their peers takes me back to when I was the happiest in my work, playing in orchestras. This is where I go when I want the rest of the world to fade away.


It’s been over twenty years since I played worth mentioning. I take a trumpet out of its case every couple of years, play for five minutes, and put it away. My face hurts and the sound not only doesn’t meet my standard, I know how distant I am from producing an acceptable sound, and it’s not worth the trip.


That said, I don’t regret a second of my time as a musician. Nothing except parenthood ever provided me with anything like the personal reward I got from playing. I went places, did things, met people, and learned things I never imagined growing up working class in Western Pennsylvania. I am grateful every day for having those opportunities.


Why am I talking about this in a writing blog? Because my life as a musician shaped my writing in ways I am still discovering. I’ll talk about those someday, but that’s a different discussion.


Anonymous said...

I heard you played on occasion for a great wedding and club band called Opus 7. You played next to a really handsome guy that was a trumpet player too!

Dana King said...

Yes, I did. I have many fond memories of that band and the musicians in it. My favorite might have been the time a drunken woman asked us why we were called Opus 7 when we only had six members.

"The bass player died."