This is an excerpt from a story written by Rodd Keith recounting an early musical experience...


The following day was Thursday. I left very early for school (not like me at all) and walked slowly on quiet streets kicking at the snow. I passed Clara Barton Junior high where I used to go, and remembered the first day I had there. There was this poor frustrated music teacher trying to get kids to sing alone in front of the class. None of the guys took here seriously at all, singing funny through their nose and deliberately (I thought) off key. Most of the girls squeaked off about eight bars and gave up in loo (sic) of the mocking noises coming from all over the classroom. Mrs. Hamilton made no reprimands, just forged on with her duty, expecting not much and getting nothing. I felt sorry for her anyway and by the time she called on me I had made up my mind to give her a courtesy, my best effort. I walked up to piano on which she had been thumping out her vengeance, when I noticed a set of unbelievable jugs in the front row. Well that wouldn’t make it any less easy to show off I figured. “Do you know this piece?” Mrs. Hamilton handed me a brown sheet...it looked like some pop tune of a bygone era the she obviously now considered “good music having classical merit”. I said “No, I don’t” although the melody looked familiar, like something I thought Percy Faith made an instrumental out of...although he had used better changes that I observed in this antique piano arrangement. I never knew the song had words. As I scanned them I understood why they were abandoned. Mrs. Hamilton was thumbing her stack for another selection when I asked if she could put it down a minor third. She looked at me like she hadn’t heard right. “I can’t get up to a “G” except in a cold shower” I added, getting a few chuckles from the room. The stare spoke “You can read music?”

“Well I might have to fake a little bit but I’ll do this one if you play in in E flat”. Hushed curiosity made the class an audience. Even the girl in the first row (who was going to star in my next wet dream) had her goodies front and center. Mrs. Hamilton began to brighten in that she was actually having a musical discussion with a student but I could tell she was not anxious to transpose that piano part. She fussed with the music dropping the loose middle page which floated to the floor settling at the feet of the girl who leaned forward to pick it up squashing one big mushy boob into the side of her desk. “Oooo, don’t hurt yourself” I said, with a grin of concern. She handed me the sheet with a dumb empty look but the guy sitting next to her shared my sense of humor with a low laugh.

“If it’s all right with you I could accompany myself”, I addressed the teacher and walked toward the piano. That surprised her but she was relived having an out. She arose from the piano stool cooing in teacher tones “How marvelous, you play too”. (I hadn’t proved I could sing yet). I sat down and kicked off with the swing vamp that was used when I heard it on the radio. Teacher’s slightly tightening face went to her copy of the music wondering if the chords I was using were anywhere on the page. They weren’t! But the class looked like they were beginning to like school. I tagged off my intro with a little jazz fill pointing my best cocky look at the girl. Mrs. Hamilton lurched squeaking her chair and was about to open her mouth when I proceeded to sing her precious golden oldie note for note from the page restricting myself to modifications only from the piano. She settled back down and gave into a polite smile which she held only till some jerks in the back started drumming on their desks with books and pencils. Hell, I hadn’t intended to instigate chaos and besides that they were screwing up the beat. So I held the final note of the chorus and mellowed the piano into a balladic rubato feel, returning to the bridge. I crooned the melody with passion, using a fuller richer quality that I had in the swing rendition. Mrs. Hamilton looked pleased, in fact she glowed with fascinated interest. It must have inspired me, I made up an ending that put me on a high “G”, played eight bars of boogie woogie piano under it and rolled a good old fashioned seven-nine chord to tie it off. My enraptured teacher was on her feet initiating applause which the class picked up. Little Miss “D” cup just sat, changing her blank look to absolute boredom, picking lint off the front of her sweater.

“Mister Eskelin, in all my years as a teacher I’ve never been so thrilled by a young talent...you are...just absolutely wonderful...such musical skill...and interpreting a song...you didn't even know with such...originality.” She was hugging me “What I can say that you probably don’t already know...such genius...I just can’t believe it...”.

I know this was getting thick for the twenty five non geniuses in the room and I didn't want to catch a lot of jealous ribbing, but Mrs. Hamilton totally ignored the existence of her class as she ushered me vigorously out of the room and down the hall to reveal her discovery to Mrs. Ensor, the head of the music department. I began silently repenting for having gotten myself into all this, but it was too late now.

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