Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Flutist: memoir 8

flanked by my beach posse
Story-writing was fun, but in 9th grade I discovered a deeper love (in addition to hanging out at the beach with friends). That Christmas I received the most marvelous gift of my life, a silver Gemeinhardt flute. My parents watched me open the sleek black case, quiet, as I gasped then whispered ohthankyouthankyou. A conservatory flute for the serious musician, its rich tone made it a joy to practice. Private lessons on Saturday helped hone my skills.
     I played five hours a day. 
     Five. On my own, without being prompted. One hour before breakfast, two at school -- band and orchestra -- then two at home in between dinner and homework. I loved it. Five hours seemed like nothing. As a freshman at Antelope Valley High School in California, I entered music competitions for solos and sight-reading -- Mozart, Beethoven, Bach -- winning an array of blue ribbons.
     The school's music director, Mr. Ballard, became my most adored teacher. An older man who had suffered a stroke, he dragged his foot when he walked up to the podium. Half his mouth drooped so his speech was slurred, but the other half lifted in a smile. He raised his good arm and with a flip of his baton we, the orchestra, soared with Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite." I was one of three flutes soloing for Danse des Mirlitons, a three-minute piece committed to memory.
     Mr. Ballard encouraged me to challenge the other eight flutists, meaning, audition for rank. Soon I moved up from Last Chair to First, quite an honor. One day in his cluttered office of instruments and sheet music, he handed me an oboe. "Try it," he said, showing me how to adjust the reed. The first notes squawked, but soon we heard it's beautiful, mellow voice. I wanted to master this as well then try its bigger cousin, the bassoon.
     Music was instant. It made me happy and made my family happy. At home with my bedroom door open, Mom and Dad would call out from the kitchen or den, "Oh honey, that sounds wonderful. Keep going."
     So instead of writing stories in painful solitude, I changed my dream. I wanted to be a concert flutist. If I kept working hard, by my senior year at AV High, I'd be ready for the symphony.
     But life has a way of interrupting dreams.
From BLUE SKIES: ONE AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.

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