Long, Long Ago

This is not about old memories but about a song I hate.

In September, 1970, it was time for me to stop being a kid and go off to college. It meant walking three quarters of a mile in all types of weather to the CTA bus turn-around at Devon and Kedzie next to the Thillens Little Leagiue Baseball Stadium. I’d grab a bus to Northeastern Illinois University, located on the far north side of the city of Chicago at Bryn Mawr and St. Louis Avenues. I reversed the process going home so I was not only getting an education but a good physical workout.

In those days the school was still called Northeastern Illinois State College. At some point in my freshman year, it got full accreditation instead of just a factory for turning out teachers. It took great pride in offering a diverse curricula.

I did not go there with the intention of becoming a classroom babysitter, which is what I thought most teachers were. I was also clueless on what major to latch onto. I naturally chose to take as many classes that first trimester that fit into a decent schedule as well as figured to do well in. The class registration system was set up so that upperclassmen were entitled to enroll for the coming trimester first. This left the not so exciting courses as well as odd time schedules for freshmen.

I guessed wrong with Music 101. The instructor looked like she could have played the mother on Little House on The Prairie. A a prig of a middle aged lady who wore her hair up in a bun, she also lived and breathed music appreciation. I’m still waiting for her to break into a smile. I guess she only did that when she graded the students she didn’t like. Despite it being an introductory low level course, I had the bad luck to take the class with others who were going to major in Music and could pick the Bach brothers out from one another in a police lineup.

Naively, I thought the class was going to be a cakewalk. At the most, we would be listening to long-playing records of classical works and comment on how we were transfixed by the experience, right? Or what was the difference between a sonata and a symphony, a coda and an etude? No- she made us purchase and learn how to play a recorder. When I first heard the mention of that instrument, I thought she was going to teach us some neat tricks on how to fast forward, rewind and fiddle with the bass and treble controls on a sound playback system.

One of the longhairs in the class sitting near me explained quietly that the teacher was talking about something that resembled a flute but held to the mouth like you were smoking a cigar. It seemed as if it were yesterday, but it was long, long ago. Uh, that’s the name of the song we had to master- “Long, Long Ago”. It would have been more interesting and enjoyable if it had been “Yesterday” (by the Beatles)

To put it mildly, I was as bad at faking playing the hyper-thyroid kazoo as Steve Allen was at faking trying to play a clarinet as if he were Benny Goodman in the biographical movie of his life. And telling us to play not by heart but from reading a musical score sheet with appropriate rhythm and pacing was not something I was going to master.

Our teacher’s first name was Helen and it seemed appropriate. She had the face and stern look to go with it that could launch a thousand F grades. I’m guessing I lucked out and earned a D in Music. Putting that stupid recorder over and over again in my mouth to practice playing the chalkboard-inducing scratchy feeling left me with a rotten taste but whetted my appetite to show up those who stood in my way to succeed in College.

I did get one other D grade in school but ended up graduating after three and a half years with honors. That should tell you enough of the effort I put in to ace all the other courses on my plate.

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