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Version: 1.0
(July 25, 2005)

Minefields ahead!

Oct 24, 2010 by libjpn

Well, my daughter is finishing up 6th grade and thinking about junior high school. A number of interesting wrinkles here that I will talk about shortly, but to get the ball started, I note that a few weeks ago, she said, "Daddy, I want to play clarinet". I'm a slow learner, but I realized instantly that this is NOT the time to give my daughter the benefit of my musical education, and urge her to take advantage of my hard earned knowledge. I didn't tell her that I picked the trumpet because mom loved Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and in elementary school band, I had no high chops and was the only one who could hear the 3rd trumpet part so I got moved to horn. I didn't tell her that I wish I had gone with oboe, where rarity and size combine to make yourself indispensable. No, I just said, 'Oh, ok'

I wasn't so smart at the next minefield. They had their 6th grade field trip (this is a Japanese tradition called shugakkoryoko) to Nagasaki. My daughter was happy because they were going to a resort hotel in Nagasaki and her three roommates were good friends, and she was really looking forward to it. She got back with virtually no voice, having stayed up very late talking with the other three. As we were talking about her trip, her mother mentioned that they had stayed up late talking about boys, and my daughter quickly added that she was just listening. My mouth being faster than my brain, I said, yes, that's why you didn't have a voice, because you were obviously just listening. Whoops, daddy, watch out for that mine...

Normally, from elementary school to junior high school, kids go to the local junior high school, but my university is opening an affiliated junior high school (we have an affiliated high school), so she is interested in going and we had the explanation meeting today. With private schools, there are often entrance exams, and my school wants to set a really high bar and get high achieving kids for the first class, so she (and I and her mother) are starting to worry about studying for the test. It's not something I'm pleased about, her getting started with what the Japanese refer to as 'exam hell'. But if she gets in, they are planning a 6 year curriculum, so she won't have to worry about high school entrance exams (which really crank up the pressure out students) and she will be close to my office and I know some of the teachers who will be teaching, so it will be nice, but it requires putting that initial stress on my daughter. Minefield

So, music instruments, boys, future education, choose your poison. Thoughts?


Oct 25, 2010, 13:27:22 dr ngo wrote:

Our son took up the oboe, and played for many years. (Then he went off to Princeton and hasn't picked it up since, but that's a separate story.)

- Plusses: it *is* indispensable and highly valued, once you get any mastery of it. While still in HS my boy played (3d oboe, natch) in the Bach B Minor Mass! Everybody else in the orchestra has to match *your* pitch: leadership! You really learn musicianship. Clarinet, by comparison, is mundane, pedestrian; oboists sneer at cheerful, clannish, clueless clarinetists. (And rightly so.)

- Minuses: tough to learn, especially at the beginning; hard to make anything like a pleasant noise. (OTOH, although the early sounds are unfriendly, it's not all that loud; not like a trumpet.) You have to make your own reeds, which takes hours. Good teachers may be hard to find. Always very hard to tune. (One definition of a quarter-tone is "two oboes playing in unison.")

- Curiosity: You can't play the oboe in a marching band! Can't "march" and play, apparently. OTOH, a competent oboeist can, if s/he must, pick up a saxophone - easy marching instrument - and learn it in a week (literally!) and wind up the next week playing it for the President of the USA. (If his/her HS is in Orange County, CA, and there's a big Republican rally, that is.)

Oct 25, 2010, 15:58:53 libjpn wrote:

I meant to put this up top, but I didn't want to get too much into instrument choice


Oct 26, 2010, 02:07:24 John Thullen wrote:

Nice post, lj.

My son, 21 this week, took up the trumpet as his school instrument (piano lessons on the side) in late elementary school. He was third chair in the orchestra -- junior high and into high school -- and took private trumpet lessons from a guy who sat second chair in the Denver Symphony Orchestra.

The kid was never fully on board with the trumpet, lacking both the interest and discipline (though his academic discipline was something to behold) to excel -- but the key factor for him, which his Mom (my now former wife) and I did not fully appreciate at the time, was his multi-year experience with orthodonture.

The poor guy was in agony at times trying to fit the metal in his mouth against the metal in that trumpet mouthpiece.

He gave it up at 15 or thereabouts.


He can play some proficient piano still.

I have that trumpet now, having rescued it from the basement when his Mom and I sold the house.

Just about the time my son gave it up, he reluctantly broke the news to us that the trumpet had been damaged in an "accident". He had dropped it bell first onto the garage floor -- the bell is dimple-dented all around the area where it connects to the body of the instrument.

Kids have a way of working out their conflicts -- this one between the braces and the trumpet -- not to mention handling the parents' expectations.

I recently handed that trumpet over to a music buddy for repair -- full repair is impossible but he'll do what he can.

My plans for the instrument are twofold - to noodle with the instrument myself and stand near my 9th-floor apartment window on sultry summer evenings and blow some minor keys over the city below like Kirk Douglas in "Man With A Horn" (sic?), or more likely, hand it back to my son at some right moment years from now.

As to "boys", in our case, it was "girls", to which I say vive la difference. His Mom and I were pretty relaxed about that whole process of discovery -- but what else can you do, considering kids pretty much keep their own counsel. Yes, we occasionally joked between ourselves about fitting him with a full-body condom on those rare instances when something untoward would show up on the Internet history.

The kid (just a lovely, grounded person it seems) tested early into gifted and talented programs in the public schools and perservered all the way through and now is a junior at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Majoring in chemistry. Working very hard.

I guess we pointed him in the direction of a certain type of elitism -- education, etc. which I'm now more than a little fearful (like that lunatic Countme? over at the mothership) may not be a good strategy for him going forward as American culture flames out
because of the new/old paradigm (big word that -- I'd better watch it) that has once again body-snatched the USA.

Maybe the kid should stay in Canada after college. Or bone up on the Left Behind series so that he can make conversation and fit in when he returns:


Oct 26, 2010, 02:13:47 John Thullen wrote:

O.K., that link doesn't work, but pop over to Washington Monthly's piece on Dr. Charles Murray's rant in the Washington Post for a link that works.

Because I'm not an elitist, it took me two readings of "The Bell Curve" to fathom how stupid that book really was.

Oct 26, 2010, 03:17:05 Slartibartfast wrote:

I have to give the oboe major props for the weight factor.

I was a bassoon player, you see, and those are heavy. With case, I mean; I never weighed it, but for a middle-school student to be lugging one of those to and fro was a task.

Oct 26, 2010, 05:30:41 russell wrote:

I have no idea what advice to give parents about education and/or the boys & girls thing.

I will say that, IMVHO, clarinet is a very hip and criminally underrated instrument. Takes a while to get a sound, takes even longer to get good control across the whole range of the instrument. But then you have a lovely, versatile axe with a good, useable range, an expressive and liquid tone, and great repertoire in a lot of different styles.

20th C classical music to klezmer, and everything in between.

Clarinet is also the standard gateway instrument for the saxophone family, which will either strike you as a plus or a minus, depending. If the kiddo starts wearing porkpie hats, you may have a problem.

Oct 26, 2010, 08:38:12 libjpn wrote:

Some other thoughts about the musical instrument thing. Though size would have been a problem, I think I would have done better had I gone with a bass/baritone instrument which would have matched my vocal pitch range. I was serious on horn and could basically cover jazz piano in a big band, but if I had gone to bass, I think I would have been able to do much better. Then again, maybe not, left-handed dexterity has always been a problem for me. Probably just another in a long line of shouda/coulda/woulda thoughts.

Everything dr ngo says about oboe. And this

The orthodoture thing is big. Clarinet is great if you have an underbite, trumpet is the thing if you have an overbite.

Apologies to russell, but percussion is not in the mix here.

There was a brief period where the girls were interested in violin, which would have been intellectually cool, but the reality would have been tough.

Saxophone, though I love jazz, I had a photocopy of a rather old engraving that had a picture of a soldier moving towards the parapet of a trench, playing a saxaphone, with the defending soldiers fleeing in panic, and it was titled 'Saxophone as a Weapon of War'

Oct 26, 2010, 11:29:06 russell wrote:

Ravel is one gorgeous dude. Just saying.

No worries about percussion not being in the mix. It's not for everyone. Especially, it's not for everyone's parents and neighbors.

I think "saxophone as a weapon of war", or at least of aggravated assault, may well have been the motto of the whole NYC free jazz loft scene.

libjpn, you gotta dust off that horn!

Oct 27, 2010, 01:54:04 nous wrote:

Slowly approaching musicality on the guitar.

Weapons of war wise the bagpipe still rules.

Think the only band instrument that still tempts me is the flugelhorn, and that is entirely the fault of Bill Chase. Chase's trumpet rock has not aged gracefully, but his fusion oriented third album, Pure Music, has some stunning music on it if you skip anything with vocals. The standout is a piece called "Twinkles" that blows me away every time. Hard to find the album, but worth it.

More flugelly folk/jazz/rock goodness in Hoven Droven's "Arepolska":

Oct 27, 2010, 09:09:51 russell wrote:

hey nous thanks for that youtube link. the scandinavian roots folks are some of the hippest folks out there, IMO.

for flugelhorn, you may want to check some roy hargrove, or some kenny wheeler. all on the jazz tip, hopefully that suits. flugelhorn is a beautiful instrument.

Oct 28, 2010, 02:22:01 nous wrote:

Mmmm. Both tasty.


Oct 28, 2010, 21:54:45 Slartibartfast wrote:

I think "saxophone as a weapon of war"

This line made me think of the following passage from "The Confusion" by Neal Stephenson:

Their orchestra consisted of drums, cymbals, and a hideous swarm of giant war-oboes hammered out of brass and fitted with screeching, buzzing reeds, the result sounding like nothing so much as an armed assault on a belfry infested with starlings.

There's something about Neal Stephenson that appeals to my sense of the absurd.

Nov 04, 2010, 15:32:08 JakeB wrote:

Instruments as weapons of war reminds me of this:

I hadn't heard this for 25 years, and was surprised to find that the melody was exactly as I still sing it (usually on the way to the gym).

It does sound like good music for going to kill Trojans, Spartans, Thebans, or what have you with . . . I also like the way the bagpipe deflates at the end, as if the piper just got speared.

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