My first formal introduction to music was as a 3rd grader in 1960. Mr. Applebaum was hired at our school to teach us music appreciation. Apparently, someone made a donation to our poor private school to give us this luxury beyond mere reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Applebaum was a roly-poly guy but with an authoritative attitude. Even though he looked like an easy mark, no one messed with him. Besides, he carried a long wooden pointer (but with a rubber tip) to emphasize the words that came out of his mouth. Or maybe he was just a creature of habit as he also conducted a band.
Mr. Applebaum never called us by our first names- it was always mister or miss so-and-so. Even though he was dealing with eight year old kids, it was all business. His life was music and he expected everyone else to share the same enthusiasm.
Fifty years later, I still remember the music associations that were drilled into the deep recesses of my mind: EGBDF- or “every good boy does fine”, as well as FACE. Both of these acronyms are notes in ascension placed in between each other. In other words, it starts with E, then F, followed by G, then A, B, C, D, E and finally F. Supposedly, you can place the first E on one the of lower lines or spaces on a musical graph and you will never forget how to sight read music. Okay, if you say so.
Mr. Applebaum wanted to show the school authority as well as parents that his charges were getting bang for the buck. He organized both a choir and a small school band. His trademark conducting method was to arrange all songs that were to be played with musical instruments to start with the same two beat staccato lead in as he waved his magical wand. It was very common and comical to witness the Star Spangled Banner start like this: “one, two, one two, one two, (slow down the beat) Oh.. Oh.. say (pause) can (pause) you (pause) see…”
Years later, good old Applebaum convinced the private high school board to let him put together a play production for my senior class. Nine and a half years after I first observed his baton waving shenanigans and marching band staccato, he was at it again and for four performances of My Fair Lady, the audience heard songs like “Loverly” and “I Should Have Danced All Night” start with the ubiquitous “one, two, one, two, one two..” I was one of the few who was in on the secret as only a couple of my 3rd grade classmates had gone on to the same high school. I guess Mr. Applebaum thought of himself as another Professor Harold Hill.
The next year as a freshman in college I took Music 101. I could read the sheet music and play half well a recorder but the lady music teacher did not share my sense of rhythm and gave me my first D. I had one more in Speech and Performing Arts but for the next three and a half years in a normal discipline of coursework I got mostly A’s and a couple of B’s and ended up graduating with honors.
About a dozen years later, I decided to take voice lessons as a lark. Again, I had to get used to sight reading a musical composition sheet. This time, though, there were words in Italian all over the page. My instructor, a Doctor of Music no less, kept on telling me to sing from the diaphragm. The next time I came to his place for a lesson, I brought one with me and asked him how I could sing through it. That’s when he threw me out and that was the end of music as a hobby. I don’t sing in the shower but I do in my car. Now that people talk on their cell phones while driving, with the window raised, most people can’t tell if I am making a fool of myself or breaking the law. Aren’t the two mutually exclusive?