Saturday, January 30, 2016

Piccolo World

I imagine that I am one of a relative handful of people who had a "windward" musical path of self-taught recorder to violin, and then to piccolo before settling into a decade-long (is that all it was?) monogamy with the modern flute.

I remember a few distinct episodes. One happened in seventh grade. In our English class we were instructed to set a poem to music. Our teacher meant, of course, that we should choose recorded music to play as background for a poem we would read aloud. I suppose I didn't understand the assignment properly, because I chose a poem (from our anthology) that was musical in itself, and immediately set it as a song with instrumental background.

I had stopped playing the violin at the beginning of sixth grade, and recorder playing was horrible at the time (I hadn't practiced since I was five or six). My mother offered her old (and broken) F.O. Adler piccolo to me, and I found that it had exactly the "cool" sound that I wanted as background for my poem. I even remember the poem (by Carl Wendell Hines, Jr.)
Yeah here am I am standing at the crest of a tallest hill with a trumpet in my hand & dark glasses on.
Bearded & bereted I proudly stand! but there are no eyes to see me. I send down cool sounds! but there are no ears to hear me. My lips they quiver in aether-emptiness! there are no hearts to love me.
I also remember the way we changed it (nobody told us that we couldn't change it) in order to make it more musical.
Yeah here am I, standing at the crest of the highest hill, with my trumpet in my hand, and dark glasses on.

Bearded and berated am I, but I have no eyes to see with. I send down cool sounds, but I have no ears to hear with
Of course I remember the melody, but I'm not sharing it here.

We worked in pairs. I worked with my friend Debbie who read the poem while I played the piccolo. While we were working on this project Debbie told me that the two of us should play recorder in the band (she had heard that was a possibility). I had the use of this piccolo, so I joined the band with that. During the summer I taught myself to play my mother's Haynes flute, and then I entered eighth grade with an Armstrong flute of my own (purchased used from the Rayburn Music Company down the street from Symphony Hall in Boston). I practiced and practiced, and by ninth grade I was using my mother's Haynes and taking lessons with a flutist in the Boston Symphony.

The Powell flute company stopped making piccolos some time during the 1960s, and my mother had an order that they were unable to fill. When they started making piccolos again in the 1975 they contacted my mother, who could no longer play because of a botched hand operation, and I became the proud owner of the first of the new Powell piccolos.

That piccolo served me well. I ended up playing much of the standard orchestral repertoire on it at Juilliard, in Hong Kong, and in Boston. I eventually sold the instrument to buy a violin bow.

In 2007 I wrote a sonata for piccolo and piano that I called "Piccolo Sonata," because it is a little piece (11 minutes long) and it is for the piccolo. This Tuesday I am going to hear it performed for the first time. I am very excited.

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