The gift of the ear

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - More Opinion - JUAN NE­GRONI Juan Ne­groni, a We­ston res­i­dent, is a con­sul­tant, bilin­gual speaker and writer. Email him at juan­[email protected] His col­umn ap­pears monthly in Hearst Con­necti­cut news­pa­pers.

It’s not that I am tone deaf. I feel mu­sic, all gen­res, from clas­si­cal to rock ‘n’ roll. But any­time I try hum­ming a tune, its melody of­ten veers off, sound­ing in­de­ci­pher­able to most ears, from less mu­si­cally in­clined ones to those with per­fect pitch. I lack the gift of the ear.

Each De­cem­ber, Sir­ius XM ra­dio plays hol­i­day mu­sic, all kinds, from tra­di­tional to con­tem­po­rary selec­tions. A few weeks ago, lis­ten­ing and hum­ming in my car I was re­minded of my past melodic strug­gles.

Start­ing about age 10, af­ter hear­ing the St. Patrick’s Day Pa­rade mu­sic from a Mount Sinai Hos­pi­tal bed in New York City, I wanted to play in that pa­rade. At Rice High School, run by the Ir­ish Chris­tian Brothers, I joined the band. They al­ways marched on St. Patrick’s.

For my in­stru­ment I se­lected the trum­pet. But it soon be­came ev­i­dent I had a lim­ited ear. Ir­ish-Amer­i­cans would have used shack­les to pre­vent me from dis­re­spect­ing their McNa­mara Band song. My play­ing was so bad that the teacher, frus­trated, once banged my mu­sic stand with his con­duc­tor’s ba­ton, split­ting it in half.

In no way was I go­ing to be al­lowed to be in that pa­rade. That is un­til I pro­posed march­ing with my trum­pet but not play­ing. It was dif­fi­cult for them to say no when I ar­gued that they had al­ready is­sued me a band uni­form. I promised not to blow any air into my mouth­piece. But I did press down on the trum­pet’s three valves through­out the march to add au­then­tic­ity for the ap­plaud­ing crowds.

On that day, down Fifth Av­enue I marched as a pre­tend­ing trum­peter. There was one other fake play­ing pub­lic ap­pear­ance when Hunter Col­lege had asked our band to play at its grad­u­a­tion. That con­cluded my pre­tend­ing, but I did con­tinue pri­vately and un­suc­cess­fully to toot Perez Prado’s “Cherry Pink and Ap­ple Blos­som White.”

In my late teens, still de­ter­mined to play an in­stru­ment, I took up the pi­ano. I prac­ticed on week­ends at PS 72 in Span­ish Har­lem where my fa­ther was the cus­to­dian. My teacher, white-haired, with the flair of an ac­com­plished or­ches­tral mae­stro, tried work­ing with me. Once at his stu­dio as I flailed on his grand pi­ano, I spot­ted him shak­ing his head. It seemed as if he was think­ing, “That boy is hope­less.”

But some sit­u­a­tions call for mu­sic. So, when my wife and I were dat­ing, I’d re­lent­lessly hum, “The Way You Look Tonight.” Our courtship sur­vived my off-key ser­e­nad­ing of that tune. It be­came our wed­ding song.

Later, mar­ried with two daugh­ters about 8 and 11, we played the Ca­role King’s “Re­ally Rosie” al­bum con­stantly. I be­came fas­ci­nated with the lyrics of the ti­tle song, and all the other catchy tunes. One day alone at home I recorded my­self on a Walk­man singing while play­ing the al­bum. Af­ter hear­ing the play­back, I never sang or hummed again pub­licly.

It was, how­ever, my good for­tune to have mar­ried into my wife’s mu­si­cally gifted fam­ily. Her grand­mother played the gui­tar and man­dolin. Her grand­fa­ther, a bar­ber, with a Pavarotti-like tenor voice, sang selec­tions from Ital­ian op­eras while cut­ting hair. Cus­tomers cried. Lore has it that he per­formed at a pre-in­au­gu­ra­tion gath­er­ing for New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker.

One of her grand­par­ent’s son, an ac­com­plished pi­anist, said he went un­cred­ited for writ­ing the score for the 1937 movie “Lost Hori­zon.” The other son, my wife’s fa­ther, with his brother formed a quar­tet named The Con­ti­nen­tals. Dur­ing the 1940s they played at clubs,

One day alone at home I recorded my­self on a Walk­man singing while play­ing the al­bum. Af­ter hear­ing the play­back, I never sang or hummed again pub­licly.

ho­tels and so­cial events such as Glo­ria Van­der­bilt’s Sweet Six­teen party. More­over, my mother-in-law danced pro­fes­sion­ally. And our two daugh­ters sang and danced from kinder­garten through col­lege.

My five grand­chil­dren have mu­sic in their veins. Re­cently at a solo recital my 9-year-old grand­daugh­ter sang “Once Upon a De­cem­ber” from the an­i­mated film “Anas­ta­sia.” Her voice coach has called her a promis­ing mezzo-so­prano. Which means lit­tle to me. But I did feel an adren­a­line rush when she hit and held her high notes.

On Christ­mas Eve last week, my wife sang along to “The Phan­tom of the Opera” on Net­flix. Three times I heard her en­thu­si­as­ti­cally call out, “Beau­ti­ful, beau­ti­ful.” When I asked about her ex­cite­ment, she said it was about the in­tri­cately ar­ranged key changes. I had no clue what that meant ei­ther.

In my pa­ja­mas on Christ­mas morn­ing I walked out to my car and turned on the Sir­iusXM ra­dio Hol­i­day Tra­di­tions sta­tion. Ap­pre­cia­tive and con­tented I lis­tened and hummed. A gift we may have wished for our­selves can be lived vi­car­i­ously through oth­ers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.