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...


Gretel Shuvzwichinstov said...

Everyone has an effect on others lives either directly, or indirectly, and I've always thought of it kind of like a kite blowing in the wind. If a chance gust of wind catches you, it can push you in a totally new direction and get you caught up in a place you never would have gone otherwise.

When I was about 12 I was amazing in track and field. I'm still tall and slender, but at that age I'd yet to grow into my grasshopper-like legs, I loved to run, and I could sprint with the best in the school. Heck, I even set a school record, for long jump, in 7th or 8th grade.

During the same time I was just starting to really get into playing the violin, and had to decide between orchestra and track, because of time commitments. I ended up choosing to stick with the violin because I had a crush on a boy in my class. I still enjoyed participating in track during school after that time, but I was no longer committed to it, so it fell by the wayside.

What if the boy had been on my track team? What if my 3rd grade teacher hadn't inspired me to play the violin by playing kid songs on her own violin for our class? What if the track coach had pushed harder for me to stay when I told her I was thinking of quitting?

I try every day to effect people in good ways, and hope I haven't pulled anyone onto a path they will someday regret.

Kris K said...

Ah yes, The Who blaring from that closet in the corner. It was the best part of practice for me - the fun of that song, and the fun of seeing him get so into it. For some of us it was the beginning of a love of rock, given our only exposure at that time was American Bandstant on Saturday mornings.

I played clarinet. Badly. Like - dogs were lining up outside the school and moaning badly. I was just too cumbersome for the flute, and thought perhaps the clarinet would be my calling. Sad, sad sounds came out of that beautiful instrument. LOL

So I gave that up. And I don't think Mr. Bertrand was too upset. He appreciated my efforts, but was, I think, relieved when I showed up to class and took a guitar off the wall.

He did throw a baton once in my class. But it was a deserved toss. Can you imagine trying to teach hormonal middle school kids the fine art of a note?

He had a brilliant musical mind. And he had a passion for it all. I had the pleasure of running into him some 10 years ago and we had a great discussion about what kind of patience the man must have had to be brave enough to teach music to children.

He has since passed away, but clearly his legacy is not to be forgotten.

We all have an impact on those around us. My personal goal is to always leave people feeling better about themselves when they have been around me. I am sure I don't always succeed. But trying is the most important part.

rachael said...

You gotta love a teacher who will let you rock out like that.

As a fan of your music Tal, I'll bet I am not alone in being grateful that the band teacher found you, before the gym teacher did.

Its funny, I chose NOT to join band because of the teacher. Rumor around the drinking fountain was that he made girls 'uncomfortble', so I didn't sign up.

Moments of synchronicity and life events eventually led me to music anyway, but I do wish I had started younger. I know I would have more skills in my pocket if I had.

Nowadays, most of my friends are professional musicians who undoubtedly were in HS band, and I think that most of my own band members were in high school band class as well.

I must admit that I used to think people in high school band were geeks.

What was I thinking?

I guess I wasn't thinking, I was just judging,.. or following perhaps.

Silly girl.

btw: Kris, your personal goal is also mine. I could have written those words myself. Cheers to you.

Tal said...

Hey Kris

What did Mr. Bertrand die of?

June said...

I think we all have a great influence on people.I have lost count of the times people have told me what a difference I have made in their life and how their lives have been changed just by knowing me. Sounds conceited,I know,but I say it to illustrate that we have a responsibility for what comes out of our mouths and for our actions.

I cringe when I hear parents swearing a blue streak in front of their kids or hear them telling their child how useless he or she is.I have often heard a parents tell their child how much better their lives were before they had them.

It is the little things that mean so much.I can chart out my own life's struggles and successes by the little things( that people who came into my life ) said or did to me.

I work to help people who often spend a lifetime trying to heal from little things that were said or done to them.We can build up or tear down people by our words or actions.We all know this but often refuse to take on the responsibility for our part in other people's lives.

I firmly believe that people are sent into our lives,at certain times, to help us grow and yes,I believe God sends them a lot of the time because we are here for a purpose,that being to learn and grow as people.

If you don't believe in God, then the effects of your words and actions hurt others just the same.If there is no life after death,then you will still have caused pain to fellow beings, and for what purpose?You skip the judgement day that believers fear but go into oblivion having spent your time poorly if you have chosen to tear down rather than build up.

I am extremely grateful for all the people who gave me a kind word or encouragement in my life.So often,they were complete strangers who were in my life for only a few minutes at a bus stop or wherever,but they helped form the fabric of my life and how I feel about myself.

Kris K said...

Tal, I believe it was complications of his lifelong battle with diabetes.

Amy said...

I fondly remember Mr. Bertrand. I was also a clarinet player. (and at times he asked me to try french horn and oboe)

I had the same experience with a teacher as well, however not with Mr. Bertrand. This was at the highschool (you had left Lynden already) and with Mr. Carson Drama/Speech teacher, his first year at Lynden.
Mr. Carson encouraged me to audition for the school play. Never did I realize the effect that first play would have on me. The laughter and immediate response from the audience was instant gratification.
He shared with me the excitement of theatre and gave me the wise advice that Character roles are the meatier ones when telling a story. Ingenue roles are what every blonde bimbo wanted.

Since then, I've had a rewarding theatre life. A small touch with Broadway and many years on stage and behind the curtain as an Artistic Director.
Just one moment of enlightenment from a well intentioned role model changed my life for the better.
Imagine what we can do as well.