Tag Archives: music

World’s Oldest Flugelhornist

14 Jan


Eat Your Hearts out Chuck, Chet, and Terry


A few summers ago my wife Diane and I  discovered another great thing about living in Kentuckiana–  the performances that marked the conclusion of the annual Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops. One of the performances   was at the old Masterson’s Restaurant before it was demonished and featured some great jazz talents  including one of my   favorites, the  world renowned jazz trumpet and flugelhorn player, Bobby Shew. Seeing him play triggered a flood of memories and envious feelings.

When I was 11 years old I began playing the cornet in the school band.  The cornet is a trumpet-like instrument, that has a beautiful mellow tone,  except when I play it. Being essentially tone deaf and having no sense of rhythm, I reluctantly admit that I was always a lousy cornetist.

Fortunately my school band was not very competitive, so I was banished to the third chair, playing the same two notes over and over again, along with other musically challenged dilettantes. There we stayed for six years playing, as Jane Austen would put it, “very ill indeed”.

All of the  half-way serious musicians  passed me up to second, first, and solo chairs. But because of my seniority, I became the acknowledged third chair leader. I took some pleasure in tormenting my chair-mates who were, of course, the only musicians in the world worse than me.  Poor players, such as us, are always lost. In particular we are unable to accurately count rests, so we never know exactly when to start playing. As the leader, my colleagues would look to me for guidance. As often as not, I would be lost myself, but I would pretend to start playing. The others would then, in a panic,  make a loud and inappropriate entrance.  I would immediately  put down my horn  and get ready to shrug my shoulders and slowly shake my head when the director glared at us.

In  high school  my highly sensitive football coach did not appreciate me missing a practice to go on the annual band trip. I believe he said something like, “Waddaya  want us to do next Stawar, stop the blankety blank football game, so you can prance out on the field and toot your little horn.”

And so my music career went. Once in a while, the band director would give us flugel horn music to play.  A flugelhorn is like an oversized cornet (or half of a baratone) and since our band did not have one, the third chairs played this music. The flugelhorn parts were nice, easy-to-play melodies for the most  part, so I decided that I was really meant to be a flugelhorn player instead of a cornetist. That lousy cornet was the real problem. I imagined  that one day I would get a flugelhorn and become “The World’s Greatest Flugelhorn Player”—  just like Clark Terry,  Chet Baker,  or even Bobby Shew.  

A few years pass. Well,  actually 38 years pass and here I am,  inSouthern Indiana. On a whim I bought a $25 trumpet at a Goodwill Store and start playing again and decide now is the time to make my move.   On e-Bay I found I could buy a flugelhorn fromIndiana  for only  $1.71 and about $900 in postage and handling.  After a lot of  research I finally bought one.   It is basically a Booby Shew Flugelhorn knock  off  and looks great,  but somehow it is not as easy or wonderful as I imagined.  In fact it sounds a lot like my old crummy cornet.

Our former church music director, who was  a profession musician, heard that I had bought a flugelhorn and asked me if I want to play with the church brass group.  Excited, I agreed and went to the first practice. All of the other players were  high school students. I automatically slid  into the last chair position and regressed to age 16 and almost broke out in acne. Besides me,  there were four boys who all seemed to have approximately the same name.  I could never tell them apart.

Also I soon learned the flugelhorn parts were not as easy as I remembered,  so the director dumbed them down enough so I could play them. Soon I was basically playing the same two notes over and over again—just like high school. The rehearsals at the director’s house were also quite embarrassing as I constantly  humiliated myself,  committing one faux pas after another. I forgot to bring the proper pencil. I opened my spit key on the director’s carpet. I didn’t  know where the tuning slide was on a flugel horn, and I ignored the sharps and flats on the first  piece we played. The director explained that sharps and  flats  were like road signs on the highway. If we do not obey these signs there will likely be a horrendous accident. I think I was then cited for reckless fingering.

At the  performance the director humorously introduced me as one of the “new kids”  and  told everyone I bought my horn on e-Bay. Within a few months  I found myself casually replaced by a teenage flugelhorn player with a lot of hair. Another one of those Ians or Jason I suspect. In all fairness I was out of town a lot and  missed several performances. Can I help it if none of the other musicians had to visit their grandchildren?

As we chanegd churches  another phase of my  dubious musical career closes, I have to admit   I obviously wasn’t the world’s greatest flugelhorn player. But Idid feel like I was possibly the world’s oldest flugelhorn player


Stuck on Mary Lou

17 Aug

             Over the past couple of days, every once in a while,   music from the song “Time after Time”,  spontaneously  starts playing in my head. It is like having a pilot light constantly flickering in your brain while you just wait  for it to flare up. Except for the Goonies and Girls Just Want to Have Fun, I was never much of a  Cyndi Lauper fan, so  I only   know  two lines from this song but they keep repeating themselves.

            My wife Diane seems especially susceptible to the works of Ricky Nelson.  Whenever she plays Ricky Nelson songs as the background music at the bookstore she manages, she gets stuck on “Hello Mary Lou” for days.  At least it’s not “Garden Party”.  

            Neuroscientists call this phenomena an “earworm”, which  is the literal translation of the German term, Ohrwurm, which simply means a song that gets stuck in your head. Over 98%  of Americans  report  having this experience. One-third of respondents in a international survey said  they have earworms every day and  90% said they occur  at least  once a week.   

            As early as 1876,  Mark Twain wrote a  tongue-in-cheek article for the Atlantic Monthly,  in which he claims he acquired  an earworm from a newspaper jingle. Some of the addictive verses from the jingle were:   

                                    “Conductor, when you receive a fare,
                                    Punch in the presence of the passenjare.

                                    Punch, brothers!  Punch with care!
                                    Punch in the presence of the passenjare.”

This  jingle   drove  Twain crazy,  until he jokingly describes how he passed it on to an unfortunate acquaintance. It is a good thing he died 54 years before Walt Disney  opened his   “It’s a Small World” attraction—  Twain would have never survived it.   

            In 1997 humorist  Dave Barry wrote the “Book of Bad Songs”, which summarizes his  survey of the world’s worst songs.  Barry contends that bad song lyrics and  jingles for products that no longer exist, are the two things that we are most likely to remember,  while our ATM passwords and the names of our children are assigned relatively  low priority by our perverse memory.   Barry warns that his book might even “put bad songs into your head”. He suggests that the book  is best deployed as a  psychological weapon  and given to enemies.

        I believe that I once had the winner of Barry’s worse song survey,MacArthurPark, stuck in my head for a week. I distinctly remember humming about a cake left out in the rain and how long it took to bake it.

            Earworm songs are always familiar to the victim and usually are not   perceived as a significant problem.  However,  in a 2005 survey 7.5%  of people did  report  having their least favorite song stuck in their head on occasion. In this more recent study, Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart ” replacedMacArthurParkas the most despised song.

            Most of the time earworms end within a day or so, but they are thought to be more difficult to suppress by people  who are most into  music.  Women and men experience earworms with about the same frequency, but they seem to last a little longer for women.   Usually the songs are a catchy tune  that you may have liked at some point in the past, but they may become highly annoying from the sheer repetition. They especially seem to appear when people are alone and bored.   

            Earworms are a type of intrusive involuntary imagery, which can include spontaneous   pictures, smells, and tastes.  Auditory intrusions, however,  seem to be more common than those from other sensory modalities. Some scientists believe that earworms may be a mild form of auditory hallucinations. Others think they may be the normal side effect of the memory consolidation process. Famous neurologist Oliver Sacks theorizes that they may just be the natural consequence of having our brains  constantly  bombarded by music.

            James Kellaris, a marketing professor  at theUniversityofCincinnati, has extensively studied earworms  and views  them as   a “cognitive itch.”   Kellaris, believes that certain music has  unusual qualities, such as repetitiveness, simplicity, or unexpectedness,  that hook  the brain’s attention. The brain tries to process this irritating stimulation by repeating it, which only makes matters worse–  like scratching an insect bite. However, since virtually any song may be an earworm for some people,  Kellaris now believes that the phenomenon probably results from an interaction of song properties and individual traits.

            Kellaris conducted a 2003 survey to determine his own  earworm “Playlist From Hell” and he  included commercial jingles, as well as songs. After idiosyncratic earworms,  the  most common ones cited were:  1. Chili’s (Baby Back Ribs), 2. Who Let the Dogs Out?,  3. We Will Rock You, 4. Kit-Kat bar jingle (Gimme a break), 5. TheMission Impossible Theme, 6. YMCA,  7. Whomp, There It Is, 8. The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and  9. It’s a Small World After All.

            People have adopted a variety of different techniques to eliminate or suppress earworms including; substituting a new tune,  passing it on,  distraction,  listening to the earworm, discussing it, or simply  waiting for it to pass. I looked up the lyrics to “Time After Time” and was surprised to find that the verses I was hearing in my head weren’t exactly the same as the actual song. I also listened to the song, but it didn’t go away, although the lyrics mysteriously corrected themselves. Some people believe that the more attention you give to an earworm, the more resistant it is to leaving.

            Kellaris’ website says that there is a common myth that some tunes (like the Flintstones’  Theme) can serve as an “eraser  song” that can eliminate earworms. It may distract the individual, but there is no evidence of any true “eraser effect”. And there is even the danger the eraser song will become a brand new earworm, itself.  

            I don’t believe learning about earworms has helped me at all, but  “Time After Time” has finally  faded from my brain. I am not sure how I did it,   but  something, (from the, town ofBedrock),  is now telling me that, “I’ll never have that recipe again, oh nooo!”