St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

You Must Count!

This week we order garden seeds!

You Must Count!!!

“Did he practice an hour each day last week?” queried Mr. Green sharply?
“Yes” replied mom. “He even practiced Sunday!”

This was not what he wanted to hear. If I had skipped practicing my saxophone he would have still had hope. It must be that I was just incompetent. Worst of all, just a few months earlier, Dad had sold a milk cow to pay for my brand new saxophone.

All the spring and summer of my 7th grade Mr. Green came to Cushing school for individual lessons each week. I learned how to control my mouth (embrochure), the fingerings and soon could make a pleasant sound and a joyful noise. I could rattle through scales and the notes on the page easily, but that wasn’t good enough.

“You must count!” exclaimed Mr. Green after his tenth try at explaining how notes had different durations. I knew the theory but it just did not click in my brain and fingers. The sax lesson book had page after page of technical exercises teaching new sharps and flats and increasingly complex mixtures of variable duration notes and rests, but no familiar songs.

I became concerned that I was not up to the mark. My parents assured me that the sound was good. Playing the melody in our old piano song books at home sounded good even to me. With increasing dread I faced my weekly lesson of scales and exercises.

In early August, Mr. Green announced that lessons would end and not start up until the new band teacher started in the fall. On the last page in the lesson book he wrote for my new teacher “You must count!!” “Five weeks on this lesson!”

September came too quickly. I had continued to practice on that page, having the notes wonderfully memorized but totally in the dark about counting. I debated tearing out the page. I liked playing the sax, but dreaded the coming lesson with a new teacher seeing that page.

Mr. Bilderback was young, stocky, with closely cropped hair. “Excellent tone! Great technique!” he exclaimed after having me play a few scales to get acquainted. “You must have been playing for several years!”

The moment I dreaded all summer came as I opened the book to the heavily annotated page. “I can’t count” I said quietly trying to keep from blubbering. He took the sax, pretended to wipe of the mouthpiece and played the short piece I had been working on all summer. This was the first time I actually heard how it was supposed to go. He handed it back and said “Well, let’s see how it sounds?”

Imitating his rhythm I rattled it off.

“That was great! You must have figured out what was wrong over the summer!” He turned to the next page. As we started each new lesson after that, he first played it for me, and soon I did learn how to count.

In his first five minutes with me, Mr. Bilderback made the whole difference.