July 24, 2005

Photo of my Dad



One of my Dad's first jobs was playing taps at military funerals. He was fifteen years old that summer. World War II had ended, and the bodies were being shipped home. The Commander of the Post had contacted him because he played first chair in the school band. So almost every Saturday, he'd put on his suit, put his trumpet case over the handle bars of his bike, and ride into the village. He'd leave his bike at his best friend's aunt's house and meet the Commander, joining the funeral procession.

He says that military funerals were almost always the same. Everyone stood clustered around the grave. The women in the family, dressed in black, would be very quiet. When it was time for him to play, he would hit that first note, and everyone would start to cry. After his last note, the firing squad would start their salute. At the end, the widow was presented with a folded-up flag. My father went to maybe fifteen funerals that summer, all young men from the small village where he lived. He made $20 per funeral, which in the 1940s was a lot of money for a kid from a poor family to make.

During the 1950s, my Dad played the trumpet, piano, or accordion at many happier occasions: weddings and dances. Summers, he took his band to a resort in the mountains where they played late into the night for all the tourists from the city. Music paid his way through school. And at that resort in the mountains, he met my mother.

He spent the 1960s working a 9-to-5 job and raising small children, but that did not stop him from jamming with his friends on weekends. Jazz was the background music of my childhood, the sound of the piano and trumpet vibrating through my memories. As my Dad got older, he had trouble with his teeth that forced him to switch to other instruments: the clarinet, and then the saxophone.

My Dad still plays twice a week, with a small group and a big concert band. He still practices every day. He has recorded several arrangements with my daughter, who plays the piano. Although he mostly plays the sax now, he brought the clarinet to camp. When I asked him why, he said that it was the lightest instrument he owned, the smallest and easiest to pack.

12 comments:

anbruch said...

Great story!

My Granddad was an accordian player in a local polka band. They pretty much had an engagement every weekend, often two or three. I only heard him play once that I can remember (he died when I was 6), but I now own his accordian. It's a chromatic button accordian, a kind of concertino, if I understand the accordian classification correctly. The bellows are pretty much shot on it, and its pipes are in great need of retuning. I'd really like to get it into playing condition sometime and at least figure out how to play a polka or two.

\*/

Songbird said...

What a beautiful picture!
We really love having a clarinetist in the family (#2 Son); it's such a beautiful, and as your dad pointed out, lightweight, instrument.

Phantom Scribbler said...

What a wonderful photo! And what a moving description of the village's military funerals.

Friday Mom said...

Great picture! My dad was full of music, but never played an instrument. Sometimes he would take a pan from the dishwasher and drum on it while he danced around the kitchen singing some country song that only he knew before he finally put it in the cupboard. When I was little I would beg him to play the pans.

Julie said...

Whoa! That photo had a Proustian effect on me. Clarinet's my instrument, but I haven't played it in a long time. That close up of the keys brought back a multi-sensory memory (taste, smell, feel, sound) that sent me running for the Kleenex.

And what a lovely, poignant story about your Dad. Thanks for sharing it.

RussianViolets said...

Great story and photo. Your dad has strong-looking and beautiful hands.

Scrivener said...

It's funny, my wife and I were watching an episode from the first season of Six Feet Under that centered around a military funeral just last night, and it led us to talking about my grandfather's funeral and the military funerals she's been to and how incredibly moving they are. Thanks for the post and the picture.

the reverend mommy said...

That is a great picture.
My dad was a drummer -- always drumsticks in his hand beating a rhythm out on almost anything. We put his favorite set in his hands when he died. I hope that my youngest is serious when she says she wants to play the drums.

Running2Ks said...

That is a beautiful picture. I was a clarinetist--always wanted to play the sax, yet couldn't. My father was asked by HIS OWN MOTHER to quit trombone, it was so bad. But a musical dad must be such a beautiful thing.

Yankee T said...

What a lovely photo of your father. I love his hands and his tan. Great story, too, as always.

halloweenlover said...

I love this picture also. Your dad looks so young playing this clarinet.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Great story, great photo. I used to play the calrinet--Graham, too--he gave it up for pinao and singing. But love that shot.