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Friday, August 26, 2011
THE ONE-STRING GUITAR
When I was in “junior high” at Edison Elementary School, I took band. My chosen instrument was the trumpet, because my sister Linda already had one from when she took band. It was a silver-colored trumpet, with very minor dents.
Although I managed to flatten my chin and slightly spit into it initially to make a trumpet tone, I could never play it worth beans. My teacher blamed it on my never practicing. I blamed it on the trumpet. Finally one day he took my trumpet and tried it in front of the class, making it sound beautifully, then handed it back to me. Sure enough, it was because I never practiced.
My band teacher went to our church at Allen to play a trumpet solo during the worship service. From sitting in the pew right in front of me, he walked confidently to the front of the sanctuary, raised the horn, and blew the most wonderful sounds. I had never heard him really play serious music before; he had only taught us; and I had never before heard such beautiful music come out of a trumpet. Instead of ear-piercing, it was soft and pretty and spirit-lifting. After the masterpiece, he returned to his seat in front of me, but before sitting down, he looked back and me and winked.
After making only lousy squeaks come out of that instrument, and somehow, even with his inspiration, never finding the time to practice, my band teacher recommended that I switch to choir in order to try to save my grade.
Choir was upstairs rather than in the school basement, and had a different teacher. She tested my voice range and found that I was an alto. Bad news. Altos don’t sing the song. They sing another song at the same time the real song is being sung. Harmony. And I never could manage to keep track of these other notes while listening to the familiar tunes the lucky others were singing. Patting my head while rubbing my stomach is easy, but this was impossible. I might as well have been accompanying the song with my trumpet.
Thank goodness there was salvation at the end of the year! For extra credit, we could make our own musical instrument! And, if successful, it would be enough to pass the failing kids…like me. Each evening that following week I worked at home, sawing and sanding and varnishing and listening and measuring, etc. etc. until I finally brought my musical instrument to school: A one-string guitar.
It was a simple one-by-two-inch stick about two feet long, sanded and varnished, looking good. At the end was one tuning peg, with a single C-string running from that to an anchor near the other end. As accurately as I could, I had fastened frets to try to make at least one scale. Not having enough energy to make a sound box for it, I had taken posterboard and formed a fairly large megaphone at the end opposite the tuning peg. It was very loud for whomever it was aimed at.
As required, I went up before the class to demonstrate my instrument. I sat down on a chair, with the board lying across my lap and the megaphone aimed at the students. Carefully pressing beside the frets with my right hand, I used a guitar pick in my left hand to pluck out “Mary had a Little Lamb.” It went along just fine until the very last note, which was painfully and loudly off-key. The whole class cringed and groaned, then burst into laughter. The teacher smiled big. I passed.
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