The way the woodwind blows

I think I have a new addiction.

With my new acquisition of a used clarinet (which I have no idea how to play) and my grandfather’s approximately eighty year old elementary school violin (which I’m a little scared to try to play), my four person household now has six musical instruments, and believe me, we’re not that good.

Actually, let me clarify. My son Jake is coming along nicely on my dad’s trumpet. And on the viola I’m using up the measures at the same pace as the rest of my colleagues in the Dover Symphony, even though I may be playing only a percentage of the notes. Still, no matter what our good intentions, our collective work ethic is probably not up to the task of mastering an instrument in an entirely new (to us) instrument family. Or, in other words, strings I get, but reeds? Maybe not so much.

While I may not be changing sections of the orchestra any time soon, I have, with the purchase of the clarinet, bought myself a good little story, out of which I’ve already gotten some good mileage. Yes, with Christmas cash from my mother burning a hole in the pocket of my vintage surplus Canadian battle jacket (a $15 Army/Navy store purchase from my Brit rocker wannabe stage in the ’80s), I spotted that clarinet on a table at my local flea market, grabbed it, tried all the keys (looking like I knew what I was doing) and asked the question only a trained musician like myself would think to ask: Does it come with a case?

Turns out it did come with a case, one stamped DSC for Delaware State College, and it was $75 but he’d give it to me for $50 said a man behind the counter, who, by the way, was wearing a vintage wannabe varsity jacket, so all I can say is “kismet.” I oohed and aahed and told him I’ve always wanted to play the clarinet (which I have), and he told me that the case had a bunch of sheet music in it, and I told him that I was so excited and may have clapped my hands with joy, and he asked if I knew any jazz, and I told him I played a string and I’ve never played any jazz, and he asked me if I’d heard of Count Basie, and I said sure I had, and he said that he was (no kidding) Count Basie’s only grand nephew, and I said, “Really?”, and he actually took out a book and flipped to a photo of Count Basie himself, and darned if he wasn’t the spitting image of the man.

And then he told me he liked my jacket, and I was really sold.

Now you’re probably thinking that the guy was playing me, but I knew he wasn’t because when I went to take out my money I said, “I’ll take it, but can you do any better on the price?” and he said, “Since you’re really going to play it I’ll give it to you for $40,” at which point I was really, really sold.

I guess I’m still a simple girl if a bargain on an item that I have no idea how to use can manage to float my boat all the way through to the new year. I have to buy a new reed (germs, you know), and some other gear, and I’m trying to suppress the thought that I am now in possession of stolen property. I may not be able to trace the origins of the instrument I have yet to play, but, musically speaking, two degrees of separation from Count Basie is surely not nothing.


  1. memyselfandotherthings said,

    January 6, 2010 at 6:03 am

    shame you live so far away. my father in law is a clarinet player and he plays in a jazz band… 🙂 he could give you lessons

    • Cheryl said,

      January 6, 2010 at 11:35 am

      One more reason for me to start travelling!

      Happy New Year to you–I hope all is well!


  2. Lorraine said,

    January 6, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    If only the nun who gave piano lessons when I was in Year 6 had been a bit nicer and more understanding about my dad being a shift worker and the piano being in the same room as the TV and me not being allowed to practise when dad was asleep or grandpa or siblings(three of them) were watching the box, if only she hadn’t been so free with the ruler across my hands … I might (and it is a big might) be able to play piano!
    I love flea markets and I loved your post. I reckon if I saw a flute with the same sort of story I’d go for it and maybe even try to learn. Although I don’t think playing recorder in the school orchestra (25 recorders, 1 cello, 2 violins and a piano – can that really be deemed an orchestra?) necessarily means that I could actually master the flute but I’d love to have a try!
    Dieter does a great degrees of separation from John Wayne! My dad was born in a little mid-north (of South Oz) town called Terowie. One of its illustrious sons whose name escapes me was a successful Hollywood director who directed The Duke. Thus, he reasons, The Duke, the Director, Leo Fogarty (my dad), me, to himself( Dieter) is only 4 degrees of separation and if he skips me because he did know my dad he makes it three!

    • Cheryl said,

      January 9, 2010 at 9:39 am

      Well, on the piano and the flute, I would have to say that if you had ever learnt, you should have been a great proficient!

      And I am very impressed with the John Wayne connection. I am an absolutely starstruck person, no matter how big, small, has been, or dead the star may be. The only star connection I have to boast is the man who played Trumpkin in the most recent Prince Caspian movie. He went to the boys school with whom my school shared buses, and his was one of the last stops on my bus route. Sadly, no one is ever all that impressed…oh well.

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