In Part One of my journey through music, I traveled from childhood musical memories through my early days teaching myself music on the piano and clarinet. But in June 1976, something happened that literally changed my life.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
I don’t remember my first kiss, but I do remember my first film score. Readers of this blog already know my fondness for Jerry Goldsmith‘s score to THE OMEN. After seeing this fright-fest as an impressionable 14-year-old, I pooled together my allowance money and bought the soundtrack LP. God only knows what my parents thought about the Satanic musical sounds emanating from my bedroom, but I couldn’t get enough of this music.
My love of film music was signed, sealed, and delivered the next year with the one-two punch of John Williams’ STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.
If you weren’t alive–and of a certain age–it may be difficult to understand how much STAR WARS took over pop culture. And STAR WARS satisfied every bone in my 15-year-old nerd body. I scrapbooked every newspaper and magazine article I could find. That scrapbook has long since bit the dust, but I can still see a yellowing picture of R2-D2 stuffed into those old black adhesive corners.
Williams’ music was everywhere. Everybody, and I mean everybody, had a copy of the STAR WARS album. Tracks like the “Main Title” and the “Cantina Band” were played on the radio, and both STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS fell prey to the disco craze. Imagine, while I was still a film score virgin, millions of people all over the world were also falling in love with film music. If everyone was doing it, it must be “cool.”
I think if you survive high school marching band with some semblance of your dignity intact then, by all rights, the rest of life should be smooth sailing. My memories of marching band consist of three red flags:
- It was performed outdoors. When you practice on the parking lot blacktop in the middle of an August summer in Texas, the 100-plus temperature bakes you from the soles of your feet. As Matthew Broderick later said in BILOXI BLUES, “This is life Africa hot!”
- It was stifling underneath those all-wool uniforms. Not ideal for Texas weather, even at night. Not to mention the generations of pubescent sweat that had seaped into every fiber that no amount of dry cleaning could erase.
- It required coordination. I’m far from a multi-tasker under the best of circumstances. Asking me to march, remember the drill, count, AND play my instrument with some degree of musicality (okay, loud!) was asking too much. I still remember the mortification when my band director hollered over the megaphone, “Lochner, get those size 13’s back into line!” And forget about playing on the field. I could only end up where I was supposed to by the end of the half-time show by going out on the field without a reed attached to my instrument. That’s right. I got through four years of high school marching band without playing a single note on the field.
When we moved from Irving to Grand Prairie (yes, Virginia, there is such a place) in the middle of my freshman year of high school, I was thrust from being a rather small fish to the top spot in the clarinet section. In one fell swoop, this new kid (through no fault of my own) alienated every junior and senior above me, and spent the next three years having to continually prove myself to my peers. Further honors in regional and state bands helped.
Though band arrangements of classical music are never ideal, Percy Grainger and Gustav Holst provided brief respites during concert season from the square Bill Moffat Sound Power arrangements of such questionable titles as “Shake Your Groove Thing” during marching season. Though there was one stellar concert band arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s score to THE WIND AND THE LION.
Thankfully, having some modicum of talent gave me opportunities in other ensembles.
For me, playing in an orchestra was a big step up from band. The music was better and you knew that the notes on the page usually came directly from the composer. My first exposure to orchestral playing was in the pit for the musical my sophomore year: THE KING AND I.
My parents had never exposed me to theater, so I was unprepared for that first experience. Since we didn’t have a proper orchestra pit, the first few rows of seats were taken out of the auditorium. Richard Rodney Bennett was a topnotch orchestrator, but those Rodgers and Hammerstein shows did not have the most exciting clarinet parts. What that meant was a lot of time to watch what was going on onstage.
During the opening night performance, I couldn’t believe my ears. Are those sobs I hear coming from the audience? Really? That kid up there is 16 years old. You can’t tell me you believe A) that he’s a king and B) that he’s dying. By the end of the three-night run, I too was sobbing at the end of the show and became hooked on musical theater.
I remember going with my mother to the Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas to see touring companies of ANNIE, CAMELOT with Richard Burton and a young Christine Ebersole as Guinevere, and THE KING AND I with Yul Brynner. This was the time of the original A CHORUS LINE, and new sounds like Stephen Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD and even Andrew Lloyd Webber’s EVITA. Shows that seemed a tad more sophisticated than the world of Nellie Forbush and your typical R&H show.
Musical theater also cured me of the acting bug.
AS CORNY AS KANSAS IN AUGUST
My one and only time onstage without my trusty clarinet to hide behind came in the summer of 1980. Grand Prairie had just instituted a community theater program with their premiere production of SOUTH PACIFIC. I’d played in the pit of this show earlier that year as part of our high school senior show and held no fondness for the piece. But I wanted to give acting a try, this was a new company, and the show needed a big cast.
As a member of the chorus of Seabees, the director wanted us to look like we’d been slaving on hot airstrips in the South Pacific. So we were required to either have a tan or wear body makeup. I refused to wear the makeup so there was no choice but to submit myself to the elements.
Now, I don’t like to sweat (see “marching band” above), and I find laying out in the sun a drag. I didn’t want to submit my precious books to the heat, and in those pre-Walkman days, there wasn’t anything musical to occupy my mind and hasten the end of those long, slow hours. All I could was just lay there. And since I’d never laid out a day in my life, I had some quick catching up to do.
I chose to hasten my end by lathering myself with baby oil and laying out for eight straight hours in the mid-August Texas sun. You guessed it. Second-degree burns, much vomiting from the sun poision, and skin that boiled over and eventually chapped so that my shoulders looked like a leather handbag. But the show must go on and I subjected myself to learning the dance steps the next day. When I think of that poor girl’s hands on my shoulders, I can still hear the lambs screaming.
SOUTH PACIFIC cured my acting aspirations but theater had claimed hold on me as a career. At one point in my young adolescent mind, I thought I’d be a film composer like Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams. But that meant moving to Los Angeles and I hate the heat (see “sweat” above). So as I made my way into college, I saw singing, dancing, and notes dancing in my head.
NEXT TIME: College and careers in music.