I’ve been making music on and off my whole life. This is the first twenty dollars I’ve ever made at it.

The twenty bucks came from the band I am currently playing with. John started it last fall and asked me to sing and play the alto sax. I hadn’t played the sax in decades. The band’s nucleus included two other good friends. Our other members came via references and auditions.

To keep expenses down, we tapped into the talents of our band members and the generous hearts of others. We’ve been making money a little while now, but because we had recording and photography expenses, we used our first revenues to pay those. We created our own Web site and logo.

Now that we have a foundation in place, new money coming in is going into our pockets. I almost feel like framing my first twenty and hanging it on the wall.

My love of music, as I’m sure yours did, started when I was little. Along the way, there have been innumerable influences and opportunities. This week I’m realizing that music has been a faithful friend and lover, all wrapped into one, my whole life. And I just want to say, to it and to everyone: thank you.

My earliest memories are of my parents playing Andy Williams, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, and Swingle Sisters records on the hi-fi in the dining room. I can still see that hi-fi in the corner, the way it opened, the smell of wood mixed with electronics. My parents said I used to sing Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” along with the car radio.

I no longer have my childhood AM-FM radio, but I saw its faux-leather case in a box somewhere recently. I listened to my radio mostly at night when I should have been sleeping. WIXY1260 and CKLW Windsor/Detroit. One year I got a green and white record player for Christmas. My first records were Led Zeppelin II, The Monkees, and “Nothing But a Heartache” by The Flirtations. The first time I heard Iron Butterfly was in Uncle Mark’s bedroom while looking at his MAD magazines.

My father took me to see the Cleveland Orchestra, the ballet, the opera. He gave me albums by The Singing Nun and Segovia. He played classical music at home on Magneplanar speakers my mother was so angry at him for buying.

In fourth grade, my parents took me to band instrument tryouts. I wanted to play the flute so badly, but the man testing me on it said, “With that overbite, more air is going out than in. Try this clarinet.”

Before we started on our actual horns, our first music lessons were conducted on black plastic recorders. I still remember the sound of my recorder, the feel of the bite marks on the mouthpiece. Every kid playing the recorder at the five elementary schools in our town crowded on to the high school bleachers to play a concert for our parents. I’m betting a record number of cocktails were mixed and aspirins taken at homes across Strongsville following that show.

(I attended my oldest brother’s recorder concert two years later. An utter cacophony.)

There were junior high lessons, sectionals, concerts. Pranks pulled on the band director. Summer music clinics at Baldwin-Wallace College. In high school, I sat first chair, B-flat clarinet. I was a terrible sight-reader and our band director yelled at me for it all the time. He taught me how to play alto sax and the trumpet, which I played in the jazz and marching bands, respectively. The trumpet bell was peeled back, as if someone had bashed it up against a brick wall a few times. My closest friends were in band and choir.

I bought record albums at The Shoppe in Berea. Then Peaches in Parma Heights. Played in high school musical pit orchestras. Stopped going to the Cleveland Orchestra with my dad. Almost majored in music in college but was too chicken. Took one piano class. Tried out for college marching band and got in. Tried out for college concert band and got in. One of the senior brass players announced that he was going to sleep with the top-five hottest freshman girls in band. I was naïve back then, but I knew enough to tell him to go screw himself.

In my twenties I married a musician and became a band wife. Saw a local TV anchor dance on the bar; watched women done wrong by Sweet Willy stomp all over the hood of his Mercedes in their high heels; pushed a drunken ex-felon who’d grabbed my ass; which started a fistfight. We made our own music videos; went to Pirate’s Cove; the Agora. So many shows. Our closest friends were all part of the scene. We had parties at our homes and spun records all night. Yelled at each other to get those drinks off the dust cover and not dance so close to the stereo and make the needle skip. Special shout-outs to Jan and Greg’s living room, and Jim and Sally’s basement.

Rap music hit the scene. Then alternative. Then MTV. I danced to and sang along with the B-52’s in our living room. Missing Persons. The Motels. I was a poor-man’s Martha Davis. My love for independent artists and college radio grew.

I joined a community band led by my old high school band director, who lent me a bass clarinet to play. My first day in Wisconsin I got my new driver’s license and bought my own bass clarinet. I played in community and regional symphonic bands. The man in my life was a trumpet player. Good player. Bad person.

I took voice lessons with a classical singer. Performed at recitals. Those who know me well find it amusing that I once sang on a church worship team. Even more so when they find out that’s where I met John.

After John and I married, I met a lot of people from the Milwaukee music scene. I started graduate school and stopped singing. John started law school and stopped playing. Neither one of us made music for a long time.

Then Terry Tanger of the seminal Milwaukee band Those XCleavers got cancer and died. On one of the most brutally hot days the summer of 2011, I went to Terry’s memorial to represent John, who was studying in Germany for a month.

When John came back, he said, “Life’s too short.” A few months later he formed a band. I wasn’t expecting to be a part of it, not at all. But when he asked me to, I thought, yeah.

And now here I am, at my age, buying Vandoren reeds and false eyelashes and gig-worthy dresses off Urban Outfitters’ sale rack. Singing and playing with musicians I have immense respect for, including two other horn players who are way young enough to be my daughters.

I have no regrets about not ever having done this when I was young myself. I’m just so happy I’m doing it now. So happy I want to curse. Later in life, to be sure; but never too late. To everyone and everything that paved the way, I thank you. And love you.

This post is not mean to be a blatant plug; I suppose it is a subtle one nonetheless. I will only tell you that our band’s name is Torn Soul. Let your keyword-search savvy take you the rest of the way.

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5 Comments

  1. Just a wonderful post….that it is never to late for that one burning passion…..makes me want to sign up for piano lessons that I always thought I wanted to do….might turn out like the flute….not able to …..but oh the possiblities…..

  2. What a joyful post! Congratulations on receiving your first monetary compensation for doing something you’d have done just for the love of it!

    I played cello for 6 years before I became “too cool” to be seen lugging it around with me. I still remember my hand positions and the feel of it vibrating against me when bowed. It was the color of warm honey.

    There is a Chinese proverb that goes, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is today.”

  3. Thanks, Denise! You always have such good proverbs; I like this one, a lot. The cello is such a beautiful instrument; the sound that swells from it is like warm honey too. My ex-husband was a bass player and had a few bass guitars before buying a string bass. Also a beautiful instrument. My brother played the viola. Now I’m remembering that our parents made all four of us kids put on a little recital for the relatives once or twice. That made me feel like a dork like nothing else.

    • I thought about that after I wrote it—that the sound of a cello (when well played, maybe not my exact tone..) is like warm honey. 😉

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