I was obsessed with music as a child. Before I could reach my parents hi-fi, I figured out how to climb on a chair and play their LPs. When I was around seven years old, I used to sit under our neighbor’s window while her daughter practiced the piano and I had this bizarrely embarrassing habit of rocking my head back and forth whenever I heard music. Thank you Stevie Wonder for making it look cool. I was given my own record player at the age of four and listened incessantly to the Beatles and Diana Ross.
Thankfully my parents recognized two things. The first being that their son had zero talent for singing. A voice so bad that our pet beagle, Fang, would hide under my dad’s chair whenever I sang “Love Child.” Then around the age of eight, they started me with real piano lessons and I took to them. I get this all the time; “I wish I wouldn’t have stopped taking lessons.” When you’re a kid, there’s baseball, soccer, ballet, and various competing activities. When parents introduce their kids to piano lessons I always tell them if your son or daughter enjoys music and actually likes practicing their pieces then definitely stick with it.
I like starting a new piece. I like to practice it, polish it, work out fingering, learn about dynamics and finally get to the point where I can play it for someone without cringing. On November 17th, Quinn and I are going to play two recognizable pieces of music, J.S. Bach’s Piano Concerto no. 5 in F minor and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2. Quinn’s piece has all of the famous melodies whereas mine has one pretty well known tune in the second movement. From the day the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra agreed to let us play with them, we have been practicing these pieces daily and taking lessons from various teachers to learn as much as possible about the composers and about how to play their masterpieces.
I, too, was obsessed with music as a child. My mother’s hi-fi was a gift from her parents in 1957 and was a pricy so it was a Christmas and 16th birthday gift. According to my mother,“It was a piece of furniture.” As a child, my mother listened to a lot of jazz; Stan Kenton, Billie Holliday, Dave Brubeck, Errol Barner. She played the piano and hummed off key. Then came exposure to more albums from Open Fire and Two Guitars, Johnny Mathis, Elvis, Mahalia Jackson, and Frank Sinatra. There was no classical music but the Hi-fi played all the time. For my mother it was the perfect accompaniment to cleaning house.
I first started picking out notes on a toy piano that had to be mounted on a plywood stand because I kept knocking it over. I learned how to pick out “Jingle Bells” at the age of three. I then started picking out TV commercials from local Memphis tv and playing them. One of my favorites was “Something’s Cooking at the Kelly’s.” We moved to Michigan and since music was a part of my parents’ life, they found it cheaper to just take me to night clubs rather than hire a sitter. We called them “Supper Clubs.” One of them, “The Rooster Tail” in Detroit featured Mowtown artists like Leslie Uggums, Diana Ross and The Supremes, and The Temptations.
THE BACH CONTEST: New Orleans, Louisiana
I took piano lessons from third grade until 12th from the same teacher. An Ursuline nun named Sister Elizabeth Marie Landry. She was originally from Lafayette, Louisiana and spoke cajun french. She claimed to be related to the famous Dallas Cowboys coach, Tom Landry, and I was not about to challenge a nun. I am sure it was true.
I took lessons every Friday afternoon and had to walk through an all girls’s school the whole way up the third floor of the fine arts department. No intimidation there. A skinny nerd making his way through groups of girls in matching Catholic uniform skirts. In any case, I stayed with the teacher until I graduated from high school.
My teacher started a JS Bach Contest which was held every March in honor of his birthday. Here is a program from 1982. I actually won the entire competition that year with that Two Part Invention. The prize was season tickets to the New Orleans Symphony in the nosebleed section. I did not care. It was great getting to take high school friends to see the orchestra on a school night the next year. The concerts in 1982-1983 took place at the Orpheum Theater where our November performance will take place.
This is a program from the 1982 competition. Notice who also played in the contest that year. Yes, my claim to fame! I beat a superstar musician in 1982. Needless to say, his genius was jazz music. The Bach stuff was only a side hobby.
THE NORD SYMPHONY COMPETITION
NORD is an acronym for New Orleans Recreational Department. Every year the non-profit group held a concerto competition where students had to compete before judges. Winners from grammar school, middle school, high school and college were given the chance to play their pieces with a volunteer orchestra. Here I am in 8th grade playing a movement from a Haydn piano concerto. I still play the piece every once in a while as I have never forgotten it.