Saturday, January 3, 2009
Life's Little Twists of Fate, Part I
Something happened when I was twelve. It changed my life, but sometimes I'm not sure it should have.
You see...I was very curious and read constantly. I also was totally into sports: baseball, football, and while soccer wasn't very popular in those days, I liked playing at school, and was thrilled one day when I heard my PE teacher introduce me to some kids as one of the best soccer players he'd ever had (those days are over - I stopped playing after we moved back to Canada, and I'm pretty lousy now as a result).
It's not that I wasn't into music: I listened to music constantly, too. It's just that it wasn't an exclusive obsession. I was into loads of different things.
But as it happened, one day when I was in the seventh grade, Mr. Bertrand, the band teacher, approached me in the hallway (this was down in Lynden, Washington). He invited me to join the concert band and play the baritone.
"I don't know how to play the baritone", I said.
"It's easy. Come and try. There's no pressure, and we need the people. And I know you have a good ear".
Prior to this, I'd had a beginning guitar class with Mr. Bertrand. (Our big hit was "Silver Bells"). Maybe he thought my guitar playing was alright. Or maybe it was just his desperation...
I say that because I heard rumours afterwards that a bunch of the concert band had quit due to Mr. Bertrand's bad temper. I heard once that he'd even thrown his baton at one of the kids in a fit of rage. I do know that a lot of kids joined around the time I did, so maybe it was true.
But I never saw any of that from Mr. Bertrand. In guitar class he'd been pretty cool - if we were good, he would sometimes put on The Who's "Who Are You?" at top volume for the last few minutes of class, which always sent all the boys into an air-guitar playing frenzy, and got all the girls dancing. This, I think, was fairly daring given that Lynden was a small, extremely conservative, extremely Christian, farming town. Especially daring given the "F" word in the song! In concert band he was the same. Cool guy.
Anyway, I showed up at concert band one day, fairly nervous. Mr. Bertrand got me set up with a baritone, showed me how to blow into it, and then gave me an instruction book with the fingerings for each note. I brought it home each day to practice, and pretty soon I was alright.
Now what made this pretty cool for me was that Mr. Bertrand was fairly ambitious - one of the pieces he wanted all of his twelve year olds to play was a piece by Tchaikovsky which, if I remember right, was called "March Entracte", though I've never been able to find it listed anywhere since (I presume it was a segment from some larger piece). Another piece was an arrangement of Haydn melodies. This sort of approach was right up my alley. Why fool around with mediocre pieces written by nobodies, when we could learn how to play some of the greatest music ever composed? Yeah baby!
This started my band career. In Washington, I ended up playing not only in the concert band but in the marching band as well. When we moved back to Canada, I played (at various times) trombone, tuba, and baritone in concert band, guitar and drums in jazz band, and sang in the madrigal choir (great tunes), jazz choir, and concert choir. At lunch times, I'd grab my Gretsch and hit the band room with Blair, the drummer, where we'd blow our faces off playing Hendrix and Zeppelin tunes. As I was friends with most of the other kids in our high school (which was quite small and very close knit), it never occurred to me that I was in any sort of clique, or that there was anything geeky about being involved in music. In fact, I think the first time this ever occurred to me was when I was being interviewed live once on the Vicki Gabereau television show. She asked me how I'd learned how to sing, and I said, "Well...I don't know really. I guess it was just always singing in the choirs at school". And she snorted derisively and made some little crack!
Anyway, I wonder sometimes what would have happened if, instead of Mr. Bertrand approaching me that day, someone else had. Like, say, the basketball coach, or the football coach, or the wrestling coach. Or what would have happened if, once back in Canada, someone had invited me out to play hockey or rugby. I'd ended up doing well at baseball, making the high school team my last year in Washington (ninth grade)...but once I got into band, sports fell by the wayside.
Maybe the worst thing that could have happened is if no one had ever invited me to do anything, since it probably would never have occurred to me to go try out for something brand new all on my own.
It seems to be a strange fact of life that often, very little things end up making big differences for us. If one little thing doesn't lead to another little thing, and to another little thing after that, some other little thing doesn't happen to you, and you end up...not meeting someone who becomes very important to you, or not doing something which changes your life, or becoming someone different from who you are. And disconcertingly, it often seems a lot like chance, whether something happens or doesn't...
And all this makes me wonder how much effect little things which I do might have on others...