(listen to the memoir)
In fourth grade, when she entered our classroom to tell us about the music program at the elementary school, the music teacher, Mrs. P, picked me out special. She knew me anyway. Her husband was my brother’s private trumpet teacher.
“I have a saxophone for you,” she told me that day.
She had remembered our conversation so many years ago when I had been sitting in their living room, listening to my brother’s lesson. She had asked me then what instrument I wanted to play (she never had a doubt that I would not play something) and I had told her the saxophone.
She brought me down to the music room that day. She took me behind the stage, where cases of instruments were stacked precariously, as if one blow from a tuba would send everything flying. I watched breathlessly as she opened up the hard case.
Inside, gleaming in the overhead lights from the stage, was an alto saxophone, a golden Bundy saxophone. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever witnessed. It was golden, with white ivory keys, resting in its black padded case. I touched a key and it clicked. It felt as if Christmas had come early and I had been the best boy in the world for the past year.
My smile went from ear to ear.
“This is yours to use,” Mrs. P said.
I didn’t want to even touch it, as if I might tarnish it or ruin it forever with my clumsy, dirty fingers. It was too perfect. Mrs. P showed me how to put the pieces together: how to use the neck strap so that the saxophone dangled out in front of you, perfectly weighted; where to put your fingers; how to wet the wooden reed and attach it to the mouthpiece.
“Try it,” she said, after putting the sax together for me, so I did.
It was an awful first sound, and I opened my eyes wide in surprise. If I wasn’t so excited, I might have given up right there on that first goose honk.
“The saxophone is challenging,” she assured me. “You’ll have to practice. It’s a lot of work. Don’t give up. Go on, try it again.”
Those were the first steps I took to learning something that was so completely and utterly new to me. Yet, as the saxophone was cradled in my hands, I knew I had found something that belonged to me, and only me. It felt completely natural, even as I screeched out another squeak from the golden bell.
I wanted to shout it out through the hallways of my school that day: I am a saxophone player and I wouldn’t give up.
Peace (in music),