Thursday, July 17, 2008

How it started

I was recently divorced, early Spring, 1972 and was sitting in my ex-wife's apartment in Washington Heights while my kids (the photo) almost 3 and just turned 5 , were napping. My ex-wife was in CCNY finishing up her BA so she could get on with her life as an independent divorced women. I was doing my part by staying with  the kids. The apartment was magnificent, a Woody Allen classic, 9 rooms off of a long hallway with ceiling to floor French windows. And I was going crazy. I hated being in that space. After 11 brutal years of a marriage entered into much too young, and a complete change of life-- I was no longer a working trombone player, I was a grad student in Philosophy teaching as an adjunct to  support my wife, kids and a tenement apartment on E 14 Street and Avenue D-- sitting in her (once our) chair was torture.

I had stopped playing trombone, and my only musical outlet was to whistle bebop as I walked around the lower East side, a free spirit hoping to entice females into giving me a compliment, a phone number, or even a date. I was pretty good at whistling, reasonably good at getting some congratulatory glances, but few dates. Playing had always been my escape. Escape from adolescent inadequacy, escape into a fantasy of what I might become, escape from having to succeed in a real profession. So why not make sitting there bearable by playing music.

When we were first married my wife wanted to take flute lessons so we bought her a student model Armstrong flute that had laid unused for 11 years. And since we were living in a one room studio in Borough Park in Brooklyn I had sat through her few lessons. Not knowing what else to do, I found the flute, put it together and got a sound right off. I played the melody of Summertime in D minor and started improvising. I didn't know the fingerings, but I understood the principle of laying one finger down after another, and before I knew it, I had played more on flute than I could ever hope to pushing a trombone slide around. It was magic, but I didn't touch the flute again for months.

That August I took my kids to a camp in the 1000 Lakes district of NY. It was a retreat facility for people interested in Transactional Analysis, rustic, on a lake, no electricity or running water and about 4 families with kids. Perfect, except the people were all nuts. Whatever you did or said became part of nightly group therapy session or worse required an encounter on the spot. There were a number of big heavy wooden canoes and I found out that a 9 year old girl at the camp had a flute. I became a dedicated flute player, a perfect excuse to get away from the people. My kids were with the other kids (and some adult) and so it was cool, except that I didn't know how to swim (and no life-jackets). But sanity took precedence over safety, so I borrowed the flute (rolled a few joints) and paddled onto the lake and played and played. I figured as long as I was playing no one could question my behavior, since rather than being anti-social I was engaged in self-actualization. I improved enormously over the two weeks. 

When I got home I didn't pick up the flute again. It had been a summer romance and now I had to get back to reality, taking doctoral courses in a field for which I was unprepared ( 18 undergrad credits in Philosophy at Brooklyn College where I majored in music). And I had to succeed in my PhD program to get enough adjunct work to make my life work.