It was an old broken down saxophone. Appropriately so I would say. I mean how much money do you want to sink into a band instrument when a kid, at an age where dreams come and go, says I want to be a musician.
The quality of that instrument, or the lack thereof, was an annoyance to my band director. But hey, I was in sixth grade and I kind of half figured the fact that I was consuming oxygen was an annoyance to this particular band director.
Mr. Robinson…professional curmudgeon.
I have not forgotten him. He seemed an unhappy man in those days. I think he was overtasked by the goal of teaching 6th graders how to become musicians….and maybe anxious to get to retirement.
A couple years later as an 8th grader we got a new young hot shot band director named Phil Geiger. He was cock sure of himself and grabbed my attention because he was an accomplished saxophone player….which was exactly what I wanted to be.
I was 1st chair Tenor Sax. In the world of music that means I was the biggest fish in my little pond.
At some point, Phil Geiger got a meeting with my father to discuss the quality of my instrument and (likely overstating my potential with that instrument) made the case for upgrading me to a higher quality saxophone. This would cost big bucks. The instrument was a Selmer Mark VII….the saxophone version of a Cadillac and the most beautiful thing I had ever seen to that point in my life.
I remember Dad asking me basically just one question. “How long do you plan on playing the saxophone, son?”
”I dunno…” I probably said
”I mean do you plan to play through high school?”
“Oh yeah…I sure do.”
I remember thinking two things at the time of that conversation. First, I was absolutely sure I’d be playing through high school because it was fun and being in the band was the center of my social life.
But second….It was the first test that I can recall of my ability to live up to a promise….a big promise. One with some meat attached to it.
When I graduated from high school I remember thinking that I was no longer “obligated” to play the saxophone….which was silly because I loved playing saxophone. BUT…I had lived up to a commitment….and that mattered to me.
Two short epilogues….
Mr. Robinson and I became friendly at the end of my high school years. I took an elective called “band-aid” in my senior year….which basically meant assisting Mr. Robinson for one class period per day. Turned out he was more of a sweetheart than he let on with most of the other kids. Geiger went on to have a very successful career in his field summarized here.
Years later I sold that saxophone to pay for a transmission on a car that I needed for work. That was a sad day…and one of the reasons my long term musical focus turned more sharply to guitar….
…but that’s a story for another day!