The Saxophone. Fourth grade–1966
The elementary school announced that anyone who wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument come to an evening with their parents to learn about the different instruments. I asked Mom and Dad if we could go. Neither of my parents ever played an instrument since they grew up during the Great Depression when they barely had enough for necessities, not to mention luxuries like musical instruments and lessons. Mom sang Alto in the church choir and Dad often sang from memory and taught us little songs while we were driving on vacation. Alouette (the Lark), a French children’s echo song he picked up while stationed in France after World War 2, became our favorite.
My parents and I arrived in the gymnasium and sat on the folding metal chairs facing the stage. The band instructor displayed the gleaming new instruments inside their red velvet cases. He held up the flute first, played it, and said it cost $150. Next was the clarinet for $150, the trumpet for $150, and the brass-colored alto saxophone for $350, the most expensive. Drawn to its unique curves and mellow sound, I asked my parents if I could learn to play the saxophone. My mother replied that it was too expensive, and we drove home. My dad remained silent.
On Saturday morning, Dad said, “Come with me, Pam. We’re going for a drive.” We climbed into our old green Plymouth station wagon and drove downtown. He parked in front of a music store. I stared at all the guitars, violins, and drums hanging on the walls. I never knew so many instruments existed. The dingy store smelled musty. I later understood this odor came from spit dumped on the floor out of wind instruments.
My dad approached the sales clerk and asked if they had an alto saxophone for rent. I could hardly believe my ears! The clerk put a case on the counter and opened it. There lay a tarnished silver colored sax with several small dents inside a dusty blue velvet case lining. He assembled it, put a new reed on the mouthpiece, and handed it to me to try. He showed me how to put the strap around my neck and hook it to the ring on the back of the sax. I took a deep breath, sealed my lips around the mouthpiece, and puffed out my cheeks while I blew hard. It squawked like a duck. I jumped at the awful noise and we all burst into laughter.
The clerk smiled and said, “Don’t worry, with a few lessons you will sound better.” My Dad asked about the cost of lessons. He rented the sax for six months and scheduled a lesson for the next Saturday. “Thank you, Dad, for believing I can play it.” “Pam, if you don’t practice regularly and show improvement, we will return it. If you make progress, I’ll consider buying you your own saxophone.”
I eagerly began my lessons, practiced at least thirty minutes daily, learned how to read music, and joined the band. I soon became the leader of the saxophones and the director awarded me with a brief solo. The next year Dad bought me a brand-new brass colored saxophone.
I’m thankful my Dad supported me in learning to play a musical instrument even though he never had the privilege himself. I later learned how to play the violin and mountain dulcimer. In addition to being a great stress breaker, music has given me joy through the decades and allowed me to minister to others, including my patients.
“Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise” (Psalm 33:3 KJV)