They produced a daughter who was somewhat musical and a son without a shred of talent.
By the time of my appearance, music was history. Economic concerns steered my father into engineering and rules of the day transformed my mother into full time wife and parent. The piano and violin took space but were rarely opened.
The mere absence of music, however, cannot account for my lack of ability. I just don’t have it! It’s too bad, because I really wish I did.
It isn’t from lack of trying. I’ve failed on more instruments than I care to recall.
Take the piano, for instance. I’ve made two attempts. The first was when my aunt, the wife of my father’s twin and a part of their earlier troupe, made a valiant effort. But I was young, not diligent in practice, and I’m sure she detected a lack of ability before giving up. The second attempt was when I was in my forties. I found a nearby teacher who agreed to take me on. I overheard her practicing one day as I approached her door—amazing! My ability—considerably less so. She eventually suggested that perhaps this was not the best avenue for me to explore and we parted amicably. I have to admit I was not a diligent student, to some extent the result of my inability to make significant progress.
Not counting the Song Flute issued to us in elementary school music classes, the next real attempt came in high school. The band needed a baritone horn player. My best two friends, disgustingly talented musically, prevailed on both me and the band instructor to fill the void. I was issued the horn, bigger than a trumpet but immensely smaller than a tuba, given some initial instructions, and told to practice, practice, practice as if I was on my way to Carnegie Hall. And, against all odds, I became pretty good. Well, perhaps more accurately, sufficiently good. I played in the band my junior and senior years and did not embarrass myself overly. I shudder to think what my parents must have endured listening to my practicing. I wish I could have kept that horn rather than returning it to the school. I would not have become more than minimally competent on it, but it was the only instrument I enjoyed playing and the only one I practiced diligently. I thought about getting one, but when I found the price, I shelved the idea. Once in a while I still dream.
That was my last effort which had any degree of success. I’ve tried the trumpet. I thought that might work since the fingering was the same as the baritone horn, but for some reason my lips never overcame the different size of mouthpieces. We had a harpsichord. We got it because my late wife always enjoyed them and assured me she would play it. She didn’t, so I thought I would give it a try. As with the piano, the effort was futile. Over many years I have tried the recorder. Unfortunately, I have not been willing to put in the time required to become even the tiniest proficient, although I still dig it out occasionally. I’m always amazed I have forgotten the fingering and have to start all over again.
I would love to sing. Everyone I know would love for me not to. The reticence is due to my inability to carry a tune. I enjoy watching opera, and I can’t get over the amazement I feel when every single one of the performers can issue a note and they know with certainty that it’s correct before it comes out. It’s a B-flat, for example, instead of a B. I’d probably put forth an F-sharp—in the wrong octave!
They say that mathematics and musical talent go hand in hand. I can report it is not always the case.
My children have excellent musical ability. There seems to have been a generation skip. Some say that is normal. I say it’s sad.
In my next life I want to return as a mathematician who also possesses the talent to perform at the Met, both on the stage and in the orchestra.