My Favorite Conductor
Every teen should have a Mr. B. He was my junior high string orchestra teacher (middle school nowadays) and my first conductor. Mr. B was a wonderful musician and a very funny man. He was also a bit nutty (great for middle-schoolers...). I liked him so much that I spent most of 7th grade with a full-blown crush on him!
My funniest memory of Mr. B was the day he became so discouraged with our string orchestra that he took measures beyond the usual glare or show of temper. Silence..........he just stood there, looking dejected. He then walked over to a large, empty, army- green trash can and jumped in. From there he looked at us with the same sad look. I guess he was so frustrated with us that he turned himself into a joke. We all laughed and laughed--at least I think we did........... It was by far the funniest thing I had ever seen (amplified by my crush). I could not wait to get home and tell my mother that Mr. B had jumped into the wastebasket.
The next humorous event was Mr. B in another moment of complete frustration. Some of the violinists were collapsing their left wrists (the violin neck rests in the left hand, and there should be a fairly straight line from the hand to the elbow...some students had a bad habit of collapsing the wrist in against the neck). Mr. B was getting tired of reminding certain students to correct this. One day he stopped conducting, silently turned around, and thoughtfully faced the blackboard with chalk in hand. We waited with baited breath as he began to draw a violin. He added the left arm and hand "holding it". He then carefully erased the wrist, leaving an empty space at the base of the hand. Then the kicker..........he slowly drew in drops of blood falling from the "severed" wrist. LESSON LEARNED. Ha ha ha ha.........almost as funny as the wastebasket incident! Another tale for my mother.
Mr. B would periodically give us a "study hall" instead of class. During this time he would listen to each of us individually in an adjoining room. I think it had windows looking into our class. He was either easy-going or just too busy to see what was going on in class......which was not much studying, as I recall. One of my friends was quite a character and would read palms (often mine) or try to hypnotize people during "study hall". This free time did not occur very often and in retrospect I believe it was good for us. It was needed relief at a crazy time in our lives.
Because of my crush on Mr. B in seventh grade I acted out in school for the first (and last) time. My adventures included learning to forge his signature (I never used it...) and drawing cartoons of him as a wild-haired conductor. Very wild-haired. More like someone whose hair and face had just emerged from electrical shock. Many of these scribbles existed and one was confiscated by Mr. B and posted on a bulletin board. My, the joys of adolescence and how odd they can be--I was secretly flattered by his discovery!! Another time during seventh grade myself and a friend were asked to meet with Mr. B after school in the instrument room. We were reprimanded for something that I do not remember. However, I DO remember feeling a certain exhilaration at the attention. I have always appreciated Mr. B's kindness to me and his toleration of teenage goofiness.
Mr. B's education was in music theory and he played the string bass. He told us about jazz gigs he played at night. He shared music theory with us by taking the time to teach intervals, scales, how to distinguish major and minor, and basic music structure. I have a few choice memories about learning these. The first involves intervals. Mr. B taught us what intervals are and certain tunes to help us recognize them. I learned quickly, and felt encouragement and pride in knowing that I could do this. A few times he surprized us with the announcement that we would have a day of learning about and listening to music. On one occasion he taught us the difference between the sounds of major and minor. I caught on quickly and again realized I was good at this! Later we had a listening day during which he introduced us to Beethoven's seventh symphony. He used the slow movement to teach us about A and B themes and sections in musical form. Once again I soaked it in. From that moment I became interested in symphonic music. My mother had a complete collection of the Beethoven symphonies and I would frequently listen to the seventh--over and over again when she was not home! Litttle by little I listened to more Beethoven and then Tschaikovsky, my next favorite. My family gave me violin and string group recordings for gifts, and I soon fell in love with the major violin concertos and several Vivaldi concerti for strings. Thanks to Mr. B........
The crush on Mr. B had faded by eighth grade and now I was interested in my stand partner. Mr. B continued to be his usual self for two more years, and I still occasionally brought a story home. He and his wife had their first child, who later went to school with my little brother. They became friends and I remember Mr. B's son dressed in toilet paper as the mummy at my brother's haunted house. Many years later Mr. B became my mother's piano tuner and church choir director. I was nearby in graduate school then and would visit my parents and hear my mother's Br. B stories!
In one of my junior high yearbooks is a note from Mr. B in the scrawl I used to copy. My perfect ending to those years states "You are just nutty enough to be a fine musician!"
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