Sunday, February 26, 2017

La Trompette

In summer camp at the mess hall sometimes near the end of the meal the head counselor would lead everyone in song.  He was Italian and he would do this song about musical instruments - some I remember are la violina, la mandolina, and la trompette.  Except, I checked Google Translate and la trompette is French, not Italian.  Weird.

Today for the first time the short rhyme that I post in Twitter and this much longer blog post are linked.  They're both about bits of memory that seem to recur but become altered and perhaps damaged along the way.  Much of this is music, some of it very low brow.

....a tale of a fateful trip, that started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship.

Thankfully, Wikipedia let's me know that this show aired mainly while I was in junior high school. The lyrics to the theme song are readily available.  I am deliberately not mentioning the name of the show here to try a little experiment.  People my age, I believe, will be able to identify the show just from the bit above without any further prompt.  In that sense it was ingrained.  We were merely passive receptors in the process.  It's these ingrained memories that seem to emerge in my mind now, but just little snips.

Some years later, college probably, we had National Lampoon and Playboy Magazine available in the dorm.  (I'm pretty sure I never bought either of those, but I did read them.)  Apart from looking at the pictures, I would read the articles in Playboy.  Many of them were about rating performance.  I remember one, in particular, that rated trumpet players, which if I recall had Al Hirt at #1, Louis Armstrong at #2, Doc Severinsen at #3, and Herb Alpert at #4.  Later on, I grew to dislike ratings like this.  What possible purpose did they serve?

Now I know the name Al Hirt, but I don't have an image of him in my head that I can retrieve, nor do I recall any of his music.  Louis Armstrong was as familiar to me for his singing voice as much as for his trumpet playing.  I got to know some of his music much more later in in life.  Doc Severinsen was much more available on the Tonight Show than those other two and in 10th grade when high school was on split session and we were on the late session (school ended around 5:40 PM and didn't start till after 11:30 AM) I became a regular viewer of the Tonight Show and was the last to go to bed in the house. So I certainly have an image of Doc Severinsen in my head as he is playing the trumpet, where he gave a rather dramatic rendering, as well as his leading the band.  But apart from the the theme song of the show, none of his music is familiar to me now.

We had the album Whipped Cream and Other Delights, so among those four I know Herb Alpert best. I think my sister got that album originally, but I would listen to it sometimes without her.  The big hit song was A Taste of Honey, which played on the radio a lot.  This music was present in other forms as well.  One that I can recall now (why I remember, I don't know) is The Dating Game with Jim Lange.  They used a snip from the song Whipped Cream to introduce the guest who would ask the questions and a snip from the song Spanish Flea for when the winner of the date was introduced.  Not too long ago I purchased that album from iTunes.  It still holds up.

Getting back to junior high school, I took band class there.  I remember several of my classmates and the instruments they played.  Eddie played the drums.  Judy and Susan played the flute.  Jack played alto sax while Steve played tenor sax.  I played the clarinet.  Danny played the trumpet.  The thoughts that accompany those memories are more about the positions in which we held our instruments than about the music we played.  The sax was a cool instrument because you held it to one side.  The clarinet was kind of passive (as was the oboe).  The flute was more delicate.  The trumpet was the most aggressive of the wind instruments.  (Drums are in in their own category.  My parents almost certainly wouldn't have allowed drums in the house.)

How did kids get matched to instruments?  That part I don't remember well.  In elementary school I think we each played a tonette, which was inexpensive enough that everyone could have one, but I can't remember what grade that was.  Then there were optional group music lessons after school that I believe cost 50 cents per lesson per kid. I took the flute for a little while, but I was never able to get a good sound out of that, so I got frustrated and wanted to try something else.  I seem to recall the music teacher from the junior high visited our elementary school and he may have recruited us for certain instruments.  (Obviously in a band you need a full complement of instruments, so there must have been some steering of kids to the instruments.)  But I wonder if kids were matched to their instruments by other criteria, perhaps gender, perhaps whether the kid was also athletic, maybe size of the kid too.

Here is Benny Goodman playing the clarinet, in some sense in the manner of playing the trumpet.  He leans back and raises the instrument to near horizontal.  And he closes his eyes so the music seems to be coming from within him.  I recall being taught it was wrong to do that - the holding the instrumental horizontal part.  The emphasis then was on embouchure, to produce a tolerable sound by a novice performer.   For the clarinet, that meant having the instrument in mainly a vertical position.  I suppose Benny Goodman had such could embouchure that he could maintain it regardless of the angle of the clarinet.  Playing the trumpet, in contrast, requires the instrument to be orthogonal to the lips.

I don't know when I first heard The Orchestra Song, interestingly rendered at the link, but I think the clarinet has it over the trumpet there.  It may be the only place where that is true. 

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