March 18, 2017


In my first year of high school, I joined the band and orchestra. I would have preferred to be in the chorus with my two best friends, Shelby and Carol, but I couldn’t carry a tune. As they said, and still tell me, not in a bucket.

I craved some sort of musical experience, so I decided to try the band. When the instructor, Mr. Miller, asked me what music experience I had, I answered, “None.”

“What instrument would you like to play?” he asked.

At fourteen, nothing seemed cooler to me than a girl who could play the drums, so I answered, “I want to be a drummer.”

“We don’t have drummers,” he said. “We have percussionists. There are twenty-three instruments in the percussion section. You would be expected to learn to read the music and play all of them.”

With the optimism of a teen-ager, I said, “All right.”

“Go buy a practice drum pad and a pair of size three drumsticks.”

My dad must have thought it a strange request, but he seldom denied me anything he could afford. We went to Grinnell’s Music and bought the requested supplies.

Mr. Miller was a miracle worker. He could play and teach every single instrument in the orchestra!!!  Our first lesson was in basic music reading. I did remarkably well at that. Our second was in rhythm. We were to sit at our desks and play, “ma-ma, da-da, ma-ma, da-da,” faster and faster. Remember that Frank Sinatra movie, “The Man With the Golden Arm?” He played a big-band drummer. I soon discovered I had no arm for the drums. However, I kept practicing and then moved on to the other instruments, the Xylophone, the whip crack, the cymbals, the chimes, the triangle, the bass drum, and others…and the Glockenspiel. I played Glockenspiel in the marching band.

It’s a wonderful instrument. The tones ring out high and lovely over every other instrument. It turned out I could either march, or I could play the Glockenspiel.

I could however, count. When we marched, I was transferred to the cymbals. Since my chest had bloomed to a “c” cup, that was tricky. I sometimes wondered if it was Mr. Miller’s way of punishing me for my Glockenspiel ineptitude. At any rate, I did well with the cymbals.

In the orchestra, we practiced a Beethoven number, for a trip to a local radio station, and I fell in love with his music.

A few years later, a friend taught me to play the piano. I still play a little.

About ten years ago, my husband and I went with friends to an outdoor concert. We carried a blanket and a picnic hamper. They did the Moonlight Sonata, and it brought tears to my eyes.

I’m so glad I know how music is made. I firmly believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn an instrument…any instrument. Even if they don’t play throughout their life, they receive an understanding of the structure of music that will last as long as they live.

Thank you, Mr. Miller.

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