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AN ACUTE SENSE OF HEARING

by Brian G. Angevine, Ph. D.

Prologue

            Someone coughed twice.  Ukhhh--ukhhhh.  Although not real loud, the coughs sounded like pistol shots in the middle of the beautiful, adagio movement of Brahm’s Third Symphony.  The sound came again, ukhhh--ukhhh!  The great acoustics of the auditorium caused the sound to reverberate and overpower the sotto voce of the orchestra.  Again the cough, and yet again.  Each time the listeners stirred a little.  Each staccato burst was like a knife thrust to the ribs of the musicians and the conductor.  One listener in particular was extremely annoyed.  His annoyance caused an uninvited flashback to an earlier time.  A time of glory.  A time of sadness.  A time of extreme stress.

            Attending concerts like this was always a mixture of ecstasy and sadness for the listener.  He fully enjoyed the glorious sounds of music washing over his soul.  But at the same time his thoughts turned to what might have been in his life.  His life had been very successful by almost any standards, yet he knew it could have been even more so.  He had the intelligence, the talent, the drive, the desire, even the hunger to be a great musician.  From the time he was very young he had been fascinated by music.

The Instrument

            My acute sense of hearing began in the fall of 1944 when I was born, although many researchers would contend that hearing starts much earlier than that.  Indeed, some expectant mothers now play music for their unborn young hoping to develop their intellect while still in the womb. One very early memory stuck with me.  I sat on the floor in front of a large, ornate radio with the curved top unique to the times.  As I listened to the music I turned and asked my mother, “Why do they play so many love songs?”  Mother answered, “Love makes the world go around.”  That was too simple an answer for my active mind, but I never forgot that early incident of an acute sense of hearing.

Thinking back to my childhood is not always pleasant although nothing really bad ever happened.  Yet there always seemed to be a subtle pressure to be something different than what I really was.  Many of my memories involve music.  My father was a very accomplished singer and my mother played violin, piano and organ, so music was a constant part of my youth.  I started playing piano when I was very young and remember playing a recital at church when I was only five years old (my first and last piano recital, I never touched piano again until college).  Shortly after that I joined the Denver Junior Police Band led by George V. Roy, a legendary teacher in the city. 

            Mr. Roy started the Denver Junior Police Band for boys with several levels of bands available through which one could progress based on tryouts and age.  The top band was stellar and marched in all the city parades along with playing several concerts to sold out audiences during the year.

            I remember the evening my mother took me to the recruitment session.  I was only seven years old, the earliest age for boys to start an instrument.  I even remember the reason why kids could not start before seven, it had to do with the dental structure of the young boy.  Seven was deemed the earliest age that enough permanent teeth were in place to support the playing of a band instrument.  The interviews were held in a big, dimly lit, drafty hall, which in reality may have been just a room, but to my small body the place seemed huge and intimidating.  There must have been some kind of introductory session describing the instruments and hearing what they sounded like.  I was asked what instrument I would like to play and picked the Baritone (or Euphonium).  I loved the sound of the instrument, mellow, in the adult male voice range, rich in texture and very melodius.  But most of all I thrilled at the obligatto parts written for baritone in Sousa marches.  It is a featured instrument in many marches the second time through the trio.

I expressed my choice to the interviewer who then proceeded to look at my mouth and tooth structure.  Who ever heard of a band director posing as dentist?  But the system worked very well for the Denver Junior Police organization.  My body was deemed to have the appropriate parts and Mom signed up and paid the dues.  One has to admire my parents when they took the plunge to buy me a very expensive instrument (compared to some others) on their limited budget.  When I look back now, after years of being a band director myself, it showed an admirable trust and leap of faith in a young boy to make such a committment.  As many parents know children often try something like band or orchestra on a whim and wind up with an unused instrument.

             My parents and I went to the music store and picked out a beautiful, laquered brass, swivel bell, three valve, Olds baritone.  The case was big, rigid and black, and heavy.  I was taught how to oil the valves and grease the tuning slides so they could be extracted easily for cleaning.  A folding music stand was also purchased along with a beginning instruction book.  With a face-splitting smile and an air of superiority I wrestled the instrument out to the car and home.  My hearing and that of my parents was surely damaged during the early process of learning how to play the horn.

The Rehearsal

            Memory gets a little muddy at this point, but many earsplitting rehearsals tried the patience of the instructor and the parents.  Like soccer moms nowdays kids were ferried around the city to where they needed to be for whatever was happening.  But for my parents that mostly involved music and cub scouts, no sports.  One glaring event stands out regarding transportation issues.

            Rehearsals were held in the basement of our church, South Broadway Christian Church, on about Tenth and the street just east of Broadway, Lincoln, if memory serves.  Home was on the southeast side of Washington Park, probably five miles from the church.  I was probably eight or nine by then and mom had dropped me off at the church for the Saturday morning rehearsal.  Afterwards I sat outside the church waiting for my ride.  All the other kids were long gone and the church was locked up.  I sat on my instrument case in the shade of the huge trees that lined the streets in that part of Denver.  Thankful for the shade on that hot day I figeted and worried about the absence of my mother.  Always somewhat impatient, yet resourceful and self sufficient to a point, I decided to walk home.

            Trudging down block after block lugging the heavy instrument was a real chore in the summer heat.  I was not tall enough to let my arm extend all the way because the instrument case would then be resting on the ground.  So I had to flex my shoulder and biceps to lift the case off the ground to move it.  I got so I could walk about a half block before shifting hands.  For some reason I knew that there were twelve blocks in a mile and I started counting off the blocks, the steps, breathing rhythmically to the cadence, and berating my mother.  Sweat was streaming down my face and soaking my clothes as I paced off the miles.  As I entered the north entrance to Washington Park, intending to cut across the park to my home, a policeman pulled up next to me and asked my name.  It turned out that the police were looking for me and that I was considered a missing person.

            Evidently mom had arranged for someone else to give me a ride home, and that person either forgot or the communication was never clearly made.  The cop took me on home and profuse apologies were offered by Mom.  Ah, the life of a musician.  I’m sure I overdramatized that incident in my mind, but I think that may have been when I got the idea that no one really cared for me all that much and I had better take care of myself.  That was a lesson in hearing.  I heard, and still sometimes hear, voices in my head reminding me that I was not worth much.

The Directors

            George V. Roy was a severe task master.  He ran his rehearsals like a military regiment and suffered no stupidity, mistakes, talking among the ranks, or anything else that slowed his course.  My group was rehearsed by someone else, a Mr. Jack Stevens.  Sometime along the way Mr. Stevens had a falling out with Mr. Roy and decided to start his own youth band.  My cousin and I joined the new Denver Youth Musicians organization.  Again there were several levels of bands with the top one being the Gold Sash Band.  The uniforms were much different than the Junior Police band which were wool, police style uniforms.  The White, Silver and Gold Sash bands wore an Eisenhower (waist length) jacket above black pants and set off with a sash around the waist designating the level of the band.  The Gold Sash band wore a tuxedo style uniform for concerts with a bright gold sash setting off the outfit.

            A memorable occasion for me was when the band played Meredith Wilson’s score to the Music Man.  One of the pieces, “Lida Rose,” called for a barbershop quartet to sing the lyrics.  I did not particularly like to sing feeling that it was sissy, or something, but I was selected for the quartet.  I had to walk out in front of the band at a given point and sing along with the three other boys.  Another time I had a solo for baritone in one piece that caused a huge amount of anxiety and copious practice.  But playing the music was a sheer delight and I even practiced at home on a regular basis.

            The first time I remember a school music session was in junior high school.  There must have been some kind of elementary band prior to that, but it was a minor part of my musical career given my early start in boy’s bands.  Mr. Kay Shadwell was the director of the Merrill Junior High Band, and maybe the orchestra.  He was very young, probably just out of college, had wavy hair, tall and slender, and was very handsome.  All the girls had a crush on him, and I admired him for his directing ability.  He was a good match for the early instruction of George Roy and Jack Stevens.  Mr. Shadwell was probably more easy going to a certain extent than the other two, and definitely more friendly than George Roy, but he still demanded a great deal out of his charges. 

            Of course this was the first band I had been involved in that had girls.  That changed the dynamics completely.  Most of the flute players were now girls instead of guys.  I was getting to the point where looking at girls was a full time occupation and very distracting during a band rehearsal.  Evidently that same problem conflicted Mr. Shadwell since (if memory serves) he married one of the students in my class a number of years later.  There is no hint of condemnation there, no scandal that is known.  Evidently a growing mutual attraction between the two materialized in that junior high band.

            Junior high school, or middle school now, is a trying time for many kids.  I was among those who felt left out of the popular crowd and yet desperately wanted to be liked.  A very popular boy was named Ray Carey.  He was very handsome, had wavy black hair, he was taller than most, extremely charismatic and very talented and intelligent.  He was recruited to play the oboe in junior high, a very difficult task indeed, and he excelled at it.  Ray was also elected class president and had his pick of the girls.  I admired him as did everyone else.  So it came as a complete surprise that Ray decided I had done something that deserved to be punched out of me.

            Lunch was usually spent on the playground at the school with kids spread all over the place doing different things.  I and two other misfits named Danny Wisdom and Tom Nebins spent most of our time off away from everyone else drawing cartoons in the dirt.  We came up with a comic strip called “The Bions” modeled after my name.  The characters were simple black circles with eyes, a mouth, and arms and legs.  They would get into all kinds of exploits and sometimes perform heroic deeds to save others.  The exercise evolved into a rather well-drawn comic strip that had a three year life of its own.  Every aspect of school life was contained in those strips, and Danny became the cartoonist for the band at George Washington high school, often drawing the explosive scenes when the director, Mr. Roland Roberts, would go volcanic.  That happened often.  The cartoons would be posted on the bulletin board and Mr. Roberts would usually accept them in good humor.

            Another lunch activity was “basketbrawl.”  That may have been the trigger for the anger Ray felt toward me.  There were any number of “players?” on the court, whomever had the ball was subject to being mugged by many others, and rebounds were contested with ferocity.  I was not an athlete, but I sometimes enjoyed getting in these games and wreaking havoc.  Perhaps, at some time, I tore the pocket off of Ray Carey’s shirt.  This was in ninth grade.  Either that incident or Ray’s general disgust with my activities with the other two cartooning losers spawned an incident.

            At lunch Ray challenged me to a fight.  He put up his fists and began dancing around me like Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) with lesser opponents.  My Dad had taught me how to box, so I put up my dukes too.  I couldn’t keep up with Ray’s footspeed, so I turned in a circle trying to defend myself.  A crowd soon gathered around  with most of the popular girls looking on.  Ray punched me on the left shoulder and I shrugged off the blow without retaliation.  Another right to the shoulder with no response.  And another and another and another.  Ray was baiting me with invective and the surrounding crowd mocked me for my lack of retaliation to the blows.  Finally the “fight,” more like a round with a punching bag, was broken up and both of us hauled to the office.  I had no animosity toward Ray and could not bring myself to unleash a punch.  I did not understand what the fight was about and could see no reason to try to punch a person I admired.  Both of us were punished in spite of the fact that I did nothing, nothing at all.

            That is just one example of the humiliation suffered by me on many occasions.  While it has nothing to do with music, it most definitely had something to do with my personality makeup and perhaps had something to do with my future direction.  It reinforced my belief that I was not worth much, and I learned to hear the taunts by those more popular.  My hearing was becoming too acute in all the wrong ways.  By the way, Ray and I wound up as pretty good friends after the “fight.”

The Girl

            As mentioned, I was very interested in girls, but had a severe personality deficit.  A large part of my personality problems may have stemmed from my “lazy eye”.  From the age of three I wore glasses trying to correct the fact that I did not use my left eye, which tended to wander around on its own.  A variety of remedies were tried, some of them smacked of torture.  One memorable device was a spinning wheel with a spiral black and white design.  I sat in the optometrist’s office on a Saturday morning watching the wheel spin with my right eye patched shut.  When compared with the “water drip” torture, there is little difference.  My young brain had to be severely affected.  Another disatrous experiment was patching the right eye at all times for at least a whole summer.  I had just entered adolescence and the eye was patched all the time during a trip to Yellowstone Park.  Home movies show me stumbling around looking decidedly goofy with the patch.  As if adolescence was not a clumsy enough time anyway.  I’m sure you can imagine what I was learning to hear.

            Eighth grade came along and I was in love with a girl from my church group, Ann Henry.  But then every guy was in love with Ann.  She was beautiful, vivacious, and friendly, but I didn’t stand a chance.  So I tried to get acquainted with other, less beautiful, girls.  One, named Jean, seemed a little interested.  The summer after the eighth grade my favorite teacher, Mr. Harold Mason, led a trip to Washington, D.C. and New York City. 

            The trip started out from Denver on a train, what a marvelous conveyance, though little used anymore.  Since the trip was overnight and no sleeping cars were reserved, the students had to sleep in their seats.   Jean and I sat together, a volatile combination for two so young.  A great deal of petting and kissing ensued, but it never went past that stage.  For some reason we never did date per se.  But Jean was my first real girlfriend and set the stage for some success with women, eventually.

            Dumbness, no, more like idiocy, prevails in junior high boys.  A stop at St. Louis led to several of the boys stealing squirt guns from the store in the station.  A girl scout troop was in the same car as the Denver students, and it became great sport to squirt them surreptitiously during the night.  I woke up once and thought I did a stealthy job of soaking the girls only to be accosted by the huge matron escorting them.  She nearly broke my arm in her powerful grip as she wrested the offending plastic pistol away.

            Other idiotic instances involved water balloons and a 12th story window in New York City.  Large balloons were filled with water in the bathtub of the hotel room and hidden under the bed.  From time-to-time one would be launched out the window at taxi cabs.  It was some kind of retalitation for almost being run over in the streets during our sight-seeing tours.  One landed on the heel of a man walking by the hotel and he immediately charged into the lobby demanding retribution.  A search of the rooms was conducted but the offenders escaped exposure somehow.

            The trip sticks in my mind because of all these things, but the girl was highly important to my ego.  Perhaps a little history was learned along the way.  I was beginning to learn to listen to the opposite sex.  Eventually I developed an acute sense of hearing for what women want.

Teachers

            Teachers were always important to me.  A few elementary teachers stood out, such as Mr. Leone.  As I remember it, he taught Spanish and Geography or something in maybe the sixth grade.  He may have been a junior high teacher though.  He signed my autograph book as “el Senor de dos cabezas”, which I thought was kinda cool.

            But Mr. Harold Mason was extraordinary.  There was no gifted program in those days, but I was selected for an honors English class.  I was placed with a witch of a woman who made us do nothing but diagram sentences and memorize the dictionary.  I only lasted a few weeks before demanding a different placement.  Mr. Mason was the lucky change of assignment for me.  He was great.  He used to read aloud from books--one I remember and used with my students was a series of fractured history stories.  They were hilarious and he captured and kept my attention through a variety of devices like that.  To this day I don’t have a clue what the various parts of speech are called.  But I learned to write by reading, and learned my large vocabulary by satisfying my curiousity about words I read.  I still look up words to find their meaning rather than guessing.  Mr. Mason instilled in me a desire to read and to challenge myself by reading demanding literature.  My sincere thanks go to him for accepting this misfit and for his help in training my sense of hearing regarding the importance of reading and writing.

            Roland Roberts was probably certifiably nuts.  He was my high school band director for my junior and senior years at the brand new George Washington High School.  He would throw a temper tantrum almost daily, but he got a lot out of us delinquents and I admire him for his tenacity and musicianship.  He often put me in positions of importance, but just as often challenged me by taking me off of first chair in the section.  For the annual talent show a pit orchestra played to accompany the show.  Roberts needed another trombone player, so he had another student teach me trombone in a crash course for a few weeks, and then I played in the stage band for the talent show.  That exposure by fire put me in good stead for a music major in college.  I thank Mr. Roberts for absolutely demanding excellence in every endeavor and helping to develop my musical sense.

            One aside about George Washington High School.  I am a fan of the comic strip “Funky Winkerbean.”  Our high school was much like that depicted in the strip.  The band director reminds me of Roland Roberts, and the hallway discipline is very similar to my experience.  During lunch, in an attempt to prevent kids from leaving the school, the mesh gates were lowered in the hallways.  Students were assigned to be gate guards and to try to prevent anyone from leaving.  Of course now that would not be allowed because of the danger of students being trapped in an incident that might require their leaving the building quickly.  But we left anyway.  We would simply overpower the poor kid manning the gate and go on through.

College

            Dr. Don Baird was my band instructor and low brass teacher at Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma.  He pushed me very hard, but provided a kind of fatherly/brotherly cameraderie which helped my personality develop much better.  He was a real go-getter and had high energy.  I never knew before I met him that badminton was a tough, athletic game.  He played it with great passion.  Baird also got me started on the difficult game of golf, and had a few of us over for cards and dinner once in awhile with he and his wife.  I learned “Hearts” and “Spades” from him, and we also played a lot of low brass duets, trios and quartets during those home visits.  He was a lot of fun and a great mentor.  I believe he died early from heart disease, which is not surprising since he was definitely a Type A person!

            Dr. Baird also put me in positions of leadership.  I wound up being the band president—and I definitely had NEVER been a leader of anything before.  Phillips University was very good for me in many ways.  I graduated from high school in a class of 888 students, if memory serves, and I was number 444.  Counselors in high school would tell me that I had the potential to make “A’s” yet I made “B’s and C’s” despite a lot of hard work and study.  A large part of my problem was my insecure personality, my questioning brain, and the fact that I always had a job at night.  So, tiny Phillips University which had only a few more students than my graduating class, was a good fit for me.  I developed into a leader of sorts and learned to make friends.

            Don Baird also forced me out of my shyness with women, in a way.  I had a few dates in college, but nothing too exciting.  Music majors had to play a recital on a quarterly basis.  We had to have an accompanist and I was having trouble finding one.  There was a very cute, very vivacious freshman girl that entered Phillips during my junior year.  All the guys had a crush on her since she wore very tight knit tops that showed off her bodacious young breasts.  Dr. Baird suggested very strongly that I ask her to accompany me in my recitals. 

            I always hated rejection.  Rejection from girls was by far the worst which explains why I had very few dates in high school.  I was not ugly, just skinny, wore glasses, and was painfully shy.  Besides that I always set my sights too high hoping for the homecoming queen in high school and ridiculous notions like that.  Of course I would rarely try to talk to girls, let alone ask for a date!  But Jane Ann was open and friendly.  Still I hesitated until Dr. Baird pushed me time and again about my accompanist.  I attempted to approach Jane Ann in the instrument room to get her alone, but others walked in just then.  Finally I had no choice but to blurt out that I wanted her to be my accompanist.  You would think I was asking her to marry me.  She seemed as excited as I about the prospects of working together, even to the point of introducing me to her parents the next time they were on campus.  Her dad was a minister of a church in a small Kansas town, and I was very intimidated.

            Our collaboration heated up quickly.  She was a great accompanist and we worked hard on our pieces, but soon the walks back to her dorm became very personal.  The Christian college had a very strict rule about dorm hours for girls, assuming the guys would have to behave if the girls were locked up safely.  Of course we found ways around those restrictions at times.  Jane Ann and I began to spend many hours making practice room windows steamy and finding shadowy trees to lie under in the evenings.  Since I did not have a car we had to be creative.  After her trip back home for Christmas that year, her attitude was a lot different toward me.  She and her old boyfriend had hooked up and she decided to end the affair with me.  I was of the old fashioned school and was still a virgin, as I believe she was.  Perhaps it is somewhat of a miracle that a guy was twenty and a virgin, especially in the free-love sixties.  But there it was.  I had done my share of heavy petting, but always stopped short of sex.

            Okay, she was going to dump me for her old boyfriend.  Suddenly I had a big appetitie for girls and a new-found belief in my ability to get them.  I began showing up at every public gathering with a different girl each time.  Within a month or two Jane Ann had decided to come back to me.  We were together from then on for the next 10 years or so, after being married one week after my college graduation.  Our marriage broke up after 10 years and two boys, I was single for 12 years, and she married some goof-ball after a while.  That marriage did not last long so she moved to a small Kansas town.  Strangely enough she met up with her old high school boyfriend somehow, he was divorced at the time and they wound up marrying each other.  They are still together today.  I guess their relationship was stronger than ours even though I won the battle for a few years.

            So, Don Baird changed my life in many ways.  I miss him.  He taught me to hear so well!  My acute sense of hearing was really refined by him.

 

            Another unique teacher was Dr. Eugene Ulrich.  I think he had two Ph. D’s in Physics and Music.  I did not feel very close to him, but I greatly admired his intellect.  I believe he helped develop radar during World War II, and he transcribed a lot of old music for modern use along with building his own harpsichord and house.  A strange, red-headed, slightly built man, but a genius.

 

            Dr. Milburn Carey was extremely important to Phillips and to Enid.  He started the Tri-State Music Festival which brought highly acclaimed musicians and great school music groups to the campus once per year.  Dr. Carey taught beginning conducting and I learned a few excellent tips from him about how to conduct clearly and how to get a lot out of musicians by specific gestures.

 

            Phillips University was a very small, church related school, which has now gone bankrupt and had to close.  But for a small school it attracted some really remarkable people.  It is not at all unusual for me to meet very important people in their fields now and find out they graduated from Phillips.  For me it was a perfect fit.  I went from a high school of over 3,000 and a graduating class of 888 to a college that had about 1500 undergraduates and a few hundred seminarians.  I went from being a number in a large place to a small place where everyone knew me and the professors took a personal interest in my development.  For a shy guy that could not have worked out better.  Phillips and the wonderful professors and students taught me to hear a little different than I had before.  I was just beginning to believe I might be worth something after all.  The little voice telling me I was worthless was being drowned out by another, more encouraging voice.

Approval

            I have always had a very high need for approval.  I was, and continue to be, my own worst critic, so I needed other people to tell me I was doing well.  I did not get a lot of that at home, nor in my early years, and it became a critical need for me.  Music was the first area where I was able to garner a certain level of acceptance, but I always expected really great things of myself.  I wanted to be the euphonium soloist in the Navy band so I could see the world.  I wanted to write music that would cause people to sit in awe at the beauty and power of my vision.  I wanted to be the youngest college band director ever.  I wanted to be at the absolute peak of my profession.  None of that happened.  I still desire to write amazing music and great stories, and I am pursuing that dream.

 

            Phillips University was the first place I felt truly accepted.  I followed a guy I admired to Wichita State University for my master’s degree.  Gene Hunt was a trumpet player a couple of years older than I at Phillips.  I thought he was great.  He had a kind of goofy personality and he and I became wonderful friends.  Even after he married his wife, Kay, he continued to spend time with me and a few other guys.  He chose Wichita State, so I did too.  It just so happened that my wife’s parents had moved to Wichita the year we were married, so it was easy to live with them while I worked on my master’s in the summertime.  It never ceased to amaze me that the professors at Wichita State would remember my name, but sometimes not Gene’s, when we met them in the hallways.  I thought Gene was a great student and musician, but for some reason he was not memorable to them, it seemed, while I was.  That had a lasting impression on me.  It was a subtle form of acceptance that made me feel I had something to offer to the world.  That persistent encouraging voice was growing stronger.

Jobs

            Akron, Colorado was my first gig.  Although I stayed only two years as the junior high band director, high school choir director and assistant high school band director, along with anything else they wanted me to do, I got a lot of acceptance from my students.  I was not real popular at first because I demanded so much from my musicians.  But after they were rewarded at contest and during concerts for their hard work, many of them thanked me in various ways.  I still have very clear memories of a few special students from those first two years.  Some of those kids had awesome talent and a few of the girls were memorable beauties.

 

            Two more years were spent in Holyoke, Colorado as Mr. Everything.  I was the head guy there and once again, not too popular at first.  I introduced a lot of creative ideas such as having an improvisational choir and giving kids a lot of leadership opportunities.  It paid off in a big way with lots of recognition for me and the students.  These years saw the birth of my first son, the addition to my family of my youngest sister who got in trouble with my parents, and a lot of conflict that I became mired in accidently.  Suddenly I was a twenty-three year old father of a baby and a teenager.  In a small town one needs to beware of prying eyes.  My sister had a best friend who also was the band’s drum major, a girl.  I was often seen driving her around town and taking her to my house.  It seemed innocent to me, but evidently the townspeople did not think so.  I was offered the option of being fired or resigning.  I chose the latter.  Looking back now, I probably could have sued them, but I wanted nothing to do with the town and the school if there was that kind of cloud over my head.  My sister got in trouble as well, stole my car one night when she was supposed to be babysitting my son, and so forth.  So, Holyoke is not one of my favorite memories, but there was a memorable student whom I write about in more detail in another story. A superb musician and person, Dan Amstutz gave me a wonderful compliment years later about how I mentored him into a musical career. Those kinds of comments are what drive teachers to do their best for students.

            Holyoke gave me the name for my youngest son, Marc, whom I named after a favorite student in my band.  I also began to develop a critical voice for those who rubbed me the wrong way.  Since I expected so much out of myself, I also expected a lot out of everyone else.  I never asked them to do anything I was unable or unwilling to do myself.  But I remember one woman who accosted me in the hallway about some incident.  I told her she was “small minded.”  That did not set too well and probably paved the way for the parents to find something wrong with me to get me fired.  Holyoke taught me to get angry when things didn’t go right; not a good trait for my acute sense of hearing.  I also had to do things there I had never done before.  I organized a large group music festival for the league, staged two musicals, and found out how difficult it is to play orchestral music for musical theater using high school band musicians.  I  tried to motivate students to march at football games and play in the pep band at basketball games, neither of which seemed very important to me in the larger scheme of teaching music.  That was a big part of my downfall as a high school band director.  My passion was concert music, but the people like football and basketball bands.  My acute sense of hearing was telling me I really didn’t want to be a high school band director in a small town.

 

            The next stint was North Park, Colorado (Walden).  I wanted to be in the mountains and got my wish.  I was hearing the voice of the wilderness that was much stronger in my head than I ever imagined.  I took the job for all the wrong reasons.  The day I interviewed I arrived in Walden after driving from Holyoke, up into Wyoming, and back down to the town.  Did I mention it is isolated?  I got there a few hours early, so I went down to the stream that ran near town and fished a bit.  Ice was just out and the stream was muddy but I caught a very nice trout.  I was hooked.  I am a trout fisherman first and foremost because I love the clear mountain streams.     

The band was tiny, the choir tinier.  We were expected to march at football games, but with a 25 piece band the sound outdoors was practically nonexistent.  Besides that a snowstorm came ripping across the valley by halftime of every game.  We never marched.  I spent that entire year outdoors.  I hunted elk, fished for trout, showshoed, skiied constantly, rode snowmobiles, and everything else.  It was great fun but a horrible job.

My professional playing career got going good there as I joined the band director from Granby (Middle Park) most Friday and Saturday nights to play in local bars.  He played trumpet while I labored on trombone or string bass, and did some singing.  That was when I realized I would never be a professional musician.  I hated the late nights and smoky bars, and the drunks never appealed to me as the night wore on.  Yeah, it was fun to play, but the other stuff was not worth it.  Besides that I had a sixty mile drive over a snowy mountain pass at two in the morning to get back home.  Not fun.  But I learned to listen to customers and how to manipulate people through music. 

When we took a break people often got up and headed for the door.  Our job was to keep them there and keep them buying drinks.  We would jump back up and start a lively tune, and more often than not, they would turn around and come back in.  The band leader also kept the heat turned up very high making the people drink more to compensate.  He was very crafty and I learned a lot from him and the situation.  Listen to your customers and take care of your boss.  This gig also signalled the beginning of the end of my marriage.  Things were never right between me and my wife after this year.  Professionally and personally this was a bad year.  But my love of the mountains and winter was solidified.

The thing I learned most at Walden was to try new things to get people involved.  My creativity was in full bore there as I started a picnic to raise funds for the music groups and got a lot of parents doing things they had never done before.  I also went to every school board meeting and listened to the hidden agendas people had for being on the board.  Many of them seemed to want only to reduce taxes, and when they found out they couldn’t they did little to benefit the schools.  I learned to hear what people wanted from their teachers and from life in general.  Usually it was something very personal and specific to them.  My acute sense of hearing told me it was impossible to please all the people all the time because of these personal agendas.

 

I finished my master’s degree at Wichita State during the summer after that first year at Walden.  Suddenly I was getting offers from larger cities in Kansas and Missouri.  The jobs paid better and the prospects for a better band made me decide to leave Colorado.  That along with the marital strife that had surfaced in Walden.  I accepted the junior high band and orchestra job in Derby, Kansas.  I turned down St. Charles, Missouri which paid more and was a better job.  Why?  Because it was farther from Colorado!  We rented a house in Derby and decided to quit in Colorado.

My wife and I drove all the way from Wichita to Walden, went to the school board meeting that night and resigned, then packed up all our stuff and drove back to Wichita.  I unpacked the truck and tried to relax after over 36 hours straight of driving, packing and driving. 

Derby, Kansas is a bedroom community for a larger city.  I did not want to be in a large city, nor did I want to leave Colorado.  But there were few medium sized cities in Colorado at the time and the pay was better in Kansas.  Derby was not my finest hour in my professional career.  I accomplished a lot with the junior high band and orchestra, my first orchestra job, but I didn’t stay long enough to do much.  My life was falling apart and developing in different directions that year to the detriment of my teaching.  Besides my expectations were much higher than being a junior high teacher.  My “worthless” inner voice was in full command as I struggled with personal issues.

Ironically we met a minister and his wife in a small town just down the road. We had known them before and the four of us just happened to wind up in the same place at the same time. I was hired as choir director and became friends with the couple who had a very strong belief in psychology and personal growth through counseling.  His sermons were very short but to the point and he managed to say something pertinent to each age group in the congregation.  I enjoyed directing the choir and developed their repertoire and musicianship to a great extent.  This is when I began to develop an acute sense of hearing about what women want and realized that I had a lot of what they wanted.

We lifted weights in the basement and I developed into a muscular, and evidently a handsome, man.  My directing style for choirs was fluid and graceful, yet commanding.  I used my whole body, my face, and especially my hands to elicit more expression and passion out of my singers.  Amazingly I succeeded beyond my expectations.  My wife and I were getting on each other’s nerves.  We had tried to work through some of that prior to moving to Kansas, but our efforts were not too successful.  I was beginning to get restless.

A group of young married couples met in personal growth sessions at the parsonage once a week.  We were all about the same age and we got into some heavy discussions indeed.  During some discussions we had split into various smaller groups during which we formed more personal relationships with each other.  His wife and I were beginning to realize that we had a lot in common.  And many of the other women in choir exclaimed about my hands and how expressive they were.  I was starting to have a feeling that women kind of admired me.

I clearly remember one of the exercises was to draw a picture that symbolized the stage of your personal development at that time.  Mine was something like a cube with various colors that showed the conflict in my feelings and emotions.  She drew a bird in a cage with the door open.  She was the bird and was just starting to step out of the open door.  That had special meaning for me since I felt that I was the one who had encouraged her to open that door.

            She was the typical minister’s wife of that time.  She wore her hair in a tight bun most of the time and donned frumpy clothes that did nothing to accentuate her beautiful youthful figure.  Her father had also been a minister and her mother never drove or did anything without her husband’s agreement.  My wife’s parents were very much the same.  Somehow I had begun to make suggestions to her about ways she could dress to look a little more modern.  I also talked her into letting her hair down and styling it different.  She wore thick, black rimmed glasses which hid her beautiful green eyes, but went to a lighter style that I helped pick out.

The change was dramatic! She began to wear shorter skirts showing her shapely legs, grew her thick, lustrous brunette hair longer and wore it in loose waves, and began acting like the outgoing, vivacious person she was.

In turn she began working on me.  She encouraged me to achieve more of the things I was capable of doing, tried to get me to give up my shyness, and began to insist on leaving my self-criticism in the dust.  I was coming out of my shell at the same time she was trying to step out of her cage.  We were perfect for each other.

My acute sense of hearing developed in many ways during those years.  I gradually developed a positive voice in my head to replace the negative ones. 

Struggling

            I quit teaching and divorced my wife with whom I had a second son by that time.  The divorce was as amicable as possible and I kept a strong tie with my two sons.  Unlike most divorced men I did not abandon my kids and did not strive to see how many wild oats I could sow.  During that time period of nine years of loving someone I could not have and twelve years being single I finished my doctorate, sold insurance, started my own business, taught at another small town high school as band director for a year, and worked a variety of extra jobs to keep my head above water (just barely) financially.  My self sufficiency was in full sway but I was struggling mightily to stay alive and healthy mentally and physically.

            I am not the type to have sex without any attendant feelings.  I have never been able to separate sex from love.  Although I had a few dating relationships during those long, lonely years, I never was satisfied.  I wanted to have exclusive relationships rather than one night stands, but they never seemed to last more than three to six months.  Of course I was looking for another perfect fit but nobody could measure up to that ideal in my mind.  My acute sense of hearing was causing me more trouble than good.  Yes, I could listen to a woman long enough to get together for awhile, but then I started hearing things that didn’t satifsy me.

            During my pursuit of a doctorate in music education I became involved in gifted education, accidentally.  I had always been highly creative but could not control the creative urges.  Taking classes in creativity seemed like a way to get control of that process.  It worked, but also introduced me to a whole new field of teaching—gifted education.  I had absolutely no desire to go back to public school teaching, but was running out of options to earn enough money to stay alive.  I started a canoe rental business using my parent’s place in Arkansas as my business address.  During one summer the professor of the classes I was taking called and asked me to apply for a job as a gifted education paraprofessional.  After her third call I finally decided to give it a try.  It changed my life.

            I spent a year as a para for a gifted teacher.  Luckily the teacher realized I had a lot of talent and creativity and gave me many jobs to do that were unsupervised and open ended.  I blossomed and created all kinds of things to make the high school kids learn more in the real world and used my creativity to help stage events to showcase the teacher and her students.  Finishing the few classes I had left to be certified as a gifted teacher was easy.  Although I had nearly finished my doctorate in music education I decided to change careers.  I became a high school teacher of the gifted through complete serendipity.  Suddenly my acute sense of hearing was paying off.

            An acute sense of hearing had cost me jobs and happiness in music.  I was never satisfied with what my students were doing nor with what I was doing.  Constant grouchiness and a seething, deep-seated anger ate away at me and caused me to seek different jobs all the time.  But in gifted education I found my listening ability to be just what the doctor ordered.  I was able to listen to my students and their parents and set them up in situations that enabled them to shine.  I really enjoyed having the parent/student meetings and getting them to engage in a dialogue they found difficult at home.  I was able to use my creativity every day in wildly different ways depending on whom I was dealing with and what their individual needs were.

            Again I was fortunate to have a boss who understood my needs and abilities.  Katie Lilliston gave me all kinds of jobs that allowed me to exercise my creativity and willingness to work hard.  I had a ball.  Not only was I doing things for my own students and my own school, I was able to start district wide programs and opportunities for other teachers and other students.  The next boss did the same thing and I felt like I was in heaven.  I was not just a teacher, but a highly functioning individual that had a lot to offer to the entire community.  Developing a new program each year along with handling all the previous ones, along with taking care of my own students and all that paper work was beginning to take a toll on me in a physical way.  But mentally it was highly stimulating.

           

            My personal life was a different story.  I quit dating at all.  Since I wasn’t satisfied with any of the women I met and they probably were not too satisfied with me, I just quit the scene altogether.  I had not had a date for a year and a half when my life changed yet again.  The school district changed from a three-year high school to four-year high schools and two-year middle schools.  A lot of former ninth grade teachers had to be relocated to the high schools.  It was a terribly disruptive time for everyone, but a large influx of new teachers invaded our building.  In an attempt to force myself out of my self-imposed shell of loneliness and chastity I bought two season tickets to the symphony.  I figured if I spent that much money it would force me to ask someone to go with me to the concerts. 

            First I asked the buxom French teacher down the hall.  I knew she was the type that had made me feel inadequate all my life.  Popular women always made me feel worthless.  But I asked anyway.  Of course she refused.  My nagging voice started up again.

Next I focused on a woman who seemed somewhat of an enigma.  My acute sense of hearing told me she was very lonely, and terribly depressed.  Her body language seemed like she was almost dragging her knuckles on the ground when she walked, and her chipped fingernails and long, ankle length skirts seemed to announce her insecurity.  I approached her at lunch, and in my usual style, waited until everyone else left the table.  I could not accept being turned down in front of anyone else.  After a bit of small talk I knew I had to get down to business.  After all, teachers only get 30 minutes for lunch—the next class was callling.  “Uh, I have tickets to the symphony next week.  Would you like to go with me?”  To my great surprise she grabbed my arm and with pure joy in her voice said, “Of course I would.  I LOVE the symphony.”

We started to get acquainted in the halls and I stopped by her house one night when I was on my way to a meeting.  I was very surprised and pleased about how open she was and how much she made me feel at home the first time I walked in her house.  The symphony date went very well indeed and we held hands as we walked in the cold back to my truck.  As we waited for the truck to warm up a bit, I leaned over and kissed her.  It was a warm, wonderful, soft kiss that I still enjoy today.  We have been together over 20 years now through thick and thin.

Our relationship almost ended quickly.  I cannot tolerate smokers.  After awhile I learned that she smoked, although not very often. 

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I cannot date a smoker and I know it is useless to ask a smoker to stop.  I guess we had better end this right now.”

“No,” she begged.  “I’ll stop!”

I didn’t believe she would be able to do so, but she did.  At that point I decided that this was my last chance to make a relationship work.  I swore to myself that I would never do anything to mess up this chance.  I did not swear it to her, but to myself, since I am my own worst critic.

My acute sense of hearing has been both good and bad during these years.  Too often I hear things I don’t want to hear.  Too often I found out things about her kids that upset me and made us fight.  Too often I have heard the siren call of the wilderness and left to get away from it all.   But often I hear what she needs and am able to meet some of that need.  Sometimes I hear what her children need and am able to give them a little bit of myself, however reluctantly.  Sometimes I ignore my acute sense of hearing, like when we have an argument and I never remember what the argument was about.  I try very hard to just forget it and go on with life.  Often I shut off the sense of wanting more from my wife, knowing that it is my responsibility to provide for my own needs rather than expecting her to do so.

I helped her change her career to teach something that was not taught in our schools.  She blossomed in that effort and became a very important person to the school district in the process.  I helped her children achieve things they wouldn’t have without my influence.  But not to get too full of myself, I made many huge errors along the way costing me a lot in the relationships I could have had with her kids.

In return she has helped me in areas I cannot handle myself.  My acute sense of hearing causes me just as much trouble as it does good.  I hear things in people’s voices that make me angry.  My desire to be all that I can be gets me in trouble with people who want me to hold me back.  My disdain for those who don’t do their jobs well is too often voiced and acted upon.  Trudy helps me calm down in those times.  If she gets to me in time, she often defuses my anger before it can be expressed.  When I am dissatisfied with the direction of my life, or my lack of achievement, she reassures me.  When I try to accomplish a week’s work in a day, she makes me stop and rest and leave it for another day.

Epilogue

Here we sit in the balcony of the concert hall.  I hear things most people don’t hear.  It is my acute sense of hearing.  It is causing me trouble yet again.  I hear the coughs and rustlings in the hall.  I feel myself getting angry that those idiots can’t control their bodies.  I am able to control my cough or muffle it when needed so I don’t disturb others.  Why can’t those people do the same for me?

I hear the trumpet player splatter the opening of an important solo.  For gosh sakes he is a professional!  He should be able to do better than that!  Oops, my acute sense of hearing is feeding my judgmental attitude again.  Things have gotten a lot better with the symphony.  A new director got rid of a lot of the people who simply didn’t play very well.  She molded the musicians into a more cohesive group with a much better sound and far more expression.  I admire her efforts but she is leaving already.  Why couldn’t she stay now that the orchestra is sounding so much better?  Where is her loyalty?  But then I remember my own career and how often I left a school just as things were getting better.

The search is on for a new director of the symphony.  I would love to give it a try but know that I wasted my opportunity to do so a long time ago.  I never focused on exactly what I wanted to do with my life.  I wanted to do everything.  I wanted to be a great performer, I wanted to be a great director, I wanted to be a good athlete, a good lover, a wonderful father.  What did I achieve?  I’m not really sure.  My dissatisfaction with myself is a part of my acute sense of hearing.

I achieved a lot, but too little.  I am really good at a lot of things, but not great.  I have been a leader but not popular.  I am very fortunate to have two wonderful sons who seem to think I did a lot for them.  They tell me so which makes me feel very humble and very proud.  I think at least one of my step kids thinks I did a lot of good.  Maybe the other one does at times, but he will never express it.  I think my wife appreciates me as much as I appreciate her.  In spite of all our foibles and mistakes over the years we have a very close symbiotic relationship.  We each need the other equally.  That is rare and wonderful and worth preserving.

My acute sense of hearing continues to frustrate and gratify.  It is what makes me creative and inspired.  It is what makes me unique.