perils with writing and whatnot
Have you read the first and second part of this series?
Mr. Avery’s after-school music class didn’t last long. If I remember right, it didn’t even last a month. There just weren’t enough students interested to make it worthwhile. I wasn’t all that unhappy about it though. My mom had found me a private teacher who didn’t cost an arm and a leg.
His instrument of choice, the violin, suited him. His frame was wiry; the lenses in his glasses looked like the bottom of soda bottles; and his chin was strong almost to the point of being muscular. His voice was that of a tenor, and he rarely spoke much above a whisper. In spite of the softness of his voice, I usually didn’t have any problems hearing him.
My first year of lessons with him was at my house. Can you believe it? How often do you hear of any sort of teacher going to the student’s home? He did this because Nancy, who lived next door, was taking clarinet lessons from him and her mom didn’t drive. Nancy had her lessons on Tuesday at 4pm. My flute lessons were at 5pm. All Mr. Garry had to do was scoot across the Schneiders’ front lawn to my front door.
First lessons always seem to be a fiasco. Even when I had my first piano lesson with Mrs. K, there were those preliminaries of how to sit correctly and how to hold your hands and fingers. The procedure was a little different with Mr. Gary though.
He asked for two straight-back chairs, which is perfectly normal for musicians who sit to play their instruments. He set them side by side in the middle of the living room — still very normal. (This is where it gets interesting.) He sat on one of the chairs, pulled his shoed feet up, and sat Indian-style. This man was at least seventy years old. I tried his stunt after he left, and, although I was just ten years old, I found it a little scary to sit this way on a chair.
During that first lesson, a lot of time was spent with me holding just the first joint of the flute where the mouthpiece is. Mr. Gary was a stickler for good tone. I must have blown over that mouthpiece over thirty times before I succeeded in getting a clear tone of a B flat. The last thirty minutes of the session included learning the C and B flat scales and playing my one music piece for the next week.
After that first year with Mr. Gary, my lessons moved to his house. He lived about seven miles away from us in the suburb of Englewood on Pearl Street. His house was a tiny little bungalow probably built during the 1920s. Both his wife and he taught music, both privately and in the surrounding schools as substitutes. (This was the way they made their Social Security dollars stretch.)
There were only two chairs with a music stand in the dining area of the small front room. He was always a gentleman, helping me take off my coat and hanging it neatly in the skinny hall closet on the other side of the room. He’d offer me the chair on the right and then sit in the other one with his legs folded under him.
Most lessons consisted of scales and music by the great classical artists like Schubert, Debussy, Hayden and Beethoven. I think my favorite was Debussy. His music felt light and free when I played it.
I kept Mr. Gary as my private music teacher until I was thirteen years old. At that point, I had actually outgrown what he had to offer me as a flute student.
In my next post in this series, I’ll be showing you the activities I was in while under Mr. Gary’s instruction. I hope you’ll come back to read about all of it.
Text+Sound by Wayne Mason
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