When I was in the seventh grade, my mom bought me a French Horn for music class. I don’t really remember why I wanted to play the French Horn — I’ll have to ask Mom. I fell in love with the sound, immediately, and I had an ear for it quite early on. As soon as I learned the mechanics, I was off.
My seventh-grade year was spent in Blake Junior High School, in Tampa, Florida. (Follow the link to see some changes — Blake is now a magnet high school.) 1972 was either the first or the second year of bus-ing in Florida, and Blake was way over on the other side of town. The school was in a poor neighborhood, economically, and one of the programs which was taken out was Band. As a result, singers and players of other musical instruments were expected to have Music class together.
I needn’t have worried — I was one of three students taking Music that year — very hard to believe in a school with about 1/3 of the seventh graders in the city. I know I was one of three in my class, and I’m pretty sure I remember asking if other students were coming. The teacher said we were the class. Fortunately, all of us were concentrating on musical instruments; this made the class easier, because we could each have a sound-proof, (sort of, that is,) practice room, and the teacher would move from one of us to the next.
I don’t remember my teacher’s name. She was a middle-aged black woman who knew music, but who had a habit of sniffing something in a perfume-looking, brown, bottle. All through class, she had the bottle in one hand, or in her pocket, and she raised it to her nose to sniff fairly frequently. I never dared to find out what was in the bottle — I don’t she’d have told me if I asked — but later in my life I smelled ether, and it was something like that. (I didn’t smell the ether too closely, or I’d have been like her!)
By the beginning of eighth grade, I played well enough for second horn in the school band — we had four, so I was pretty proud of myself. Interesting story about that class, but 8th grade band gets a post all its own. For now, I ended seventh grade with a well-taught technique, in spite of the ether. Like Picasso had his blue period, 1972 was the beginning of my French Horn period, which lasted into my first year of college. (Those stories will come separately, in serial form, with references to put all the chapters together.)