How Did You Get Interested In Music?

How Did You Get Interested In Music?

 

So, the question before me is, “How did you get interested in music?” A better question for me though would be, “How could I not get interested in music?” 

 

There was music in my house for as long as I can remember. We had a stereo and a record collection that featured things like Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Broadway cast albums, and Sing Along with Mitch. My mom recalls hearing me sing along with the Original Broadway Cast album of My Fair Lady word for word at the age of four. She would also sing to me and my sister. She would calm tantrums with “Sue Me” or “A Bushel and a Peck” from Guys and Dolls, and she would sing us to sleep with “How Are Things In Glocca Morra?” from Finian’s Rainbow.

 

Around the time I was five, my father discovered the audio revolution of 8-track tapes. Being able to have his own music in the car was a must, and he had 8-track tape decks installed in both his car and my mom’s. Along with each installation came a free 8-track with a list of titles he got to choose from. He chose the Boston Pops for himself and children’s one for me and my sister. We latched onto both of them and listened to them on repeat (he added an 8-track tape deck to the stereo in the house as well). I’ll wager there aren’t many kids who have both Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s “Dance of the Camorrists” from his opera The Jewels of the Madonna coupled with “Patrick Muldoon and His Magic Balloon” as fond and deeply ingrained childhood memories.

 

Also around that time, it was deemed that I was old enough and interested enough to be taken to see a local production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s children’s opera Help! Help! The Globolinks! That was my first exposure to seeing kids actually playing music, but it was certainly not the last, because then there was The Partridge Family.

 

The Partridge Family debuted in September of 1970, featuring a musical family singing and playing their own music, and there was a kid named Danny on the show! I was hooked, and the idea of making music myself really took hold, reinforced by the music I was constantly exposed to by what were some of the best educational children’s television shows ever broadcast. From the time I was four and over the course of the next few years I watched Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, The Electric Company, Zoom, and more, all of which were filled with music. Zoom in particular impressed me because the cast was just kids, and I actually wrote in to them trying to get on the show myself (there was a kid named Danny on Zoom too), only to be crushed when I found out you had to live in Boston and I was in Dallas.

 

This last incident finally pushed my parents to buy a piano and sign me up for piano lessons when I was eight at a little music store in Richardson, TX, called The Music House. I also joined the children’s choir at church. I had made the move from just listening to and enjoying music to actively participating in making it.

 

As time went on and I progressed through elementary school, I continued with piano lessons and singing in choir, adding the school choir to my list of activities when I was ten. A big turning point came when I was eleven, though, and the junior high band director came one day at the end of the school year to recruit the fifth graders for sixth grade band.

 

There were tables set up in the cafeteria with all of the instruments laid out for people to try. Flutes, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, and more were lined up at different stations, and the kids all wandered in packs from table to table, looking and pointing at instruments, some of which we had never seen before. Even though all of my friends had planned on signing up, I hadn’t really thought about what instrument I wanted to play myself. Before I could give it much thought, though, one of my friends decided on trumpet, and everyone else followed suit. All of a sudden, there it was. I was going to play the trumpet!

 

When school started in the fall, I brought home a rented trumpet, and thus began my extremely short trumpet career. I hated playing trumpet. I hated the buzzing on my lips in the mouthpiece, holding it felt awkward and uncomfortable, and worst off for my eleven-year-old self, in our small little trumpet section of four, I was dead last. Constantly. 

 

By the end of October, I had decided I wanted to switch to another instrument. But what to switch to? I loved the sound of the French horn (it’s still my favorite instrument to this day), but at the time, all I could think of was that it was another brass instrument, so more buzzing, plus there was someone else already playing it. Not wanting to be last any more, I decided to pick something no one else was playing. Bassoon! That was it! Bassoons look cool and have an interesting sound! Perfect! 

 

Except not perfect. The band directors told me that I couldn’t play bassoon because my hands were too small. I found out several years later that they lied to me because they didn’t want to start a sixth grader on bassoon. Instead they said I should play oboe because it was a double reed just like the bassoon! Of course I didn’t really know any better, so oboe it became. I turned in my trumpet and joined what we ended up being called the Miscellaneous Section because the three of us were the only ones playing our instruments - one clarinet player, one alto sax player, and me on oboe.

 

And that’s how life decisions often get made. The young ego of an eleven-year-old combined with a band director that didn’t want to be inconvenienced left me with the choice of an instrument that has lasted for forty-five years. 

 

As luck would have it however, it turned out that I was far better on oboe than I ever was on trumpet. I ended up earning my way into the top bands in school from eighth grade through to the end of high school. Despite having good grades in other subjects, music quickly became the one area where I had real confidence in myself and my abilities, and where my achievements were recognized, and even celebrated.

 

Being an oboe player in an advanced band program for years also exposed me to a vast amount of music that I would never have encountered otherwise, from symphonic literature and contemporary concert band music to chamber music and solo literature. I discovered Rossini and Rimsky-Korsakov and Copland and Hindemith, Elliott Carter and Andreas Makris and Ron Nelson and Malcolm Arnold. It’s an indication of who I had become in high school when, while in Paris for the summer between my sophomore and junior years with my high school French class, we went to Père Lachaise Cemetery, most everyone else went to find the grave of Jim Morrison of The Doors, but I went and found the grave of Anton Reicha, the “father” of the woodwind quintet.

 

The following summer I had the opportunity to go to orchestra camp - the Sewanee Summer Music Center at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. It was that experience that truly solidified my desire to make music my life. Nothing was better than learning, practicing, and making music from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed - symphony concerts, chamber music, theory and introductory composition lessons. And meeting other kids my age who were as passionate about music as I was. I never wanted it to end, and I went into my senior year knowing that I wanted to be a music major in college and to do music, to be a part of making music, for the rest of my life.

 

And that’s what I did. I started as an oboe performance major, although I ended up taking a slight turn and ended up getting my degree in composition. After I left school, I ended up doing what a fair number of music majors do and found a job at the local music store I had grown up going to, and that’s how I fell sideways into the music retail industry and the last little bit of my puzzle fell into place. I was in the print music department, which I loved since I had been building my personal music library since I had been in junior high. I found that I loved learning about the minutiae of the books and the publishing industry, and more than that, I loved helping people find the right music for them. Whether it was a high school sax player wanting to learn jazz or a middle school band director who had a limited budget and limited time to choose their concert selections for the year, using my training and knowledge to help musicians and music teachers was, and still is, one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, and I’m glad I’m still getting to do it after so many years.

 

I realize that the initial question was “How did you get interested in music?” The real question for me, though, ended up evolving into “How did I get interested in doing what I have spent the better part of my career doing?” 

 

Many factors, from pure happenstance to conscious decision and everything in between, lead us on our journeys through our lives, but if we’re lucky, we get to spend our lives doing something that we feel passionately about and enjoy. And I know full well that I’m one of the lucky ones, because getting interested in music showed me my passion and has given me my life.

 

Danny Smolenski

Store Manager

Penrose Strings by Nick Rail Music

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