Continued from part 1:
I was about five or six when she took me to a dress rehearsal prior to a performance of the St. Mathew Passion by J.S. Bach. That work is scored for double choirs and double chamber orchestras. The orchestras weren’t there, but the chapel had an Aeolian Skinner organ. I was crawling around under the pews when the baton came down and the building began to vibrate. That gave me a serious case of the willies. Every hair on my body stood on end. My spirit teetered on the edge of the unknown.
As far as guitar was concerned, I was mostly directionless in high school until I happened by a local furniture store and noticed for the first time that they sold records as a side line. The wife of the owner handled that part of the business and got to know my interests. One day she directed my attention to something that she was sure would please me. It was a recording of the flamenco guitarist Sabicas. I was dumb founded: The guitar could be played like that? Time passed and she had another suggestion. This time it was a recording of Andres Segovia playing compositions for the guitar by Sor and Tarrega. The music of Sabicas, impressive as it was, existed in a world that I didn’t feel I could touch. But the music Segovia played seemed approachable. Finding a teacher in Central Florida at that time seemed a long shot, but worth a try.
Looking around, I finally found somebody who purported to teach the instrument. He was a house painter by trade. Questionable, but then music is not known to be a lucrative profession. He really loved the classic guitar, but I can’t say I ever heard him play very much. In retrospect, his methodology left something to be desired. In one of the methods we were using there was a sketch of Segovia’s right hand in playing position. He observed that if somebody could hold their hand in the same manner as Segovia, they could play just like him. Laughable, yes? Did I believe it? I’m embarrassed! One of the older students, an English teacher, commented that he “sure could talk a good guitar lesson”. But there was one thing in his favor and that was that he was very encouraging and I practiced seriously.
He also started a Classic Guitar Society. That wasn’t especially important in itself, but it set off a chain of events that would affect my life up until even now. At one of the first meetings another young, aspiring guitarist came over from Tarpon Springs to perform. His self confidence in performance was immediately impressive and what is more he had everything memorized. His name was Robert Luse. Through the years, as is obvious, we have stayed in contact. At the time it was his intention to go to Washington D.C. and study classic guitar at The American University in Washington D.C. which he did.
I had already been accepted to study music education at one of the local colleges. It was ideal because I could be a day student. That meant that I only had to pay tuition and would live and eat at home rather than in a dormitory. That kept cost within the limits of what was possible. I expressed my regrets not to be able to follow his lead. Thinking about it, he suggested that when he came home for vacation, I could come over and he would give me lessons. I agreed and when circumstances would permit, made the journey.
One summer a mutual friend who was working for an enterprise that was helping prepare the first American launch into space mentioned that he was driving up north and he would be happy to drop me off in Washington D.C.. Robert was going to be free and I could take intensive lessons for a couple of weeks. The idea was very exciting. Not only was I going to get lessons, but I had the added advantage of being able to visit the nation’s capital. My feet barely touched ground for at least a week.
Eventually, this trip was important to me for reasons that went well beyond the realm of music. I was born in Canton, Ohio and my family went south when I was three. The only two times that I had been out of the State of Florida was when I was five and accompanied my mother up to the little town in Ohio where she was born to be present at my great-grandfather’s funeral and at eight when I went with my grandmother and her third husband to visit his family in Colorado. This time I was going to be able to visit a big city.
Washington D.C. is in the South, but nothing like most of Florida. I immediately sensed a greater degree of tolerance regarding a whole variety of subjects. There was a sense of personal liberation along with all the cultural advantages of a bigger city. I worked on the guitar, but had a hard time staying inside. There were a lot of interesting things to see.
Continue to part 3.