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Chapter 5: A Side Trip

A small digression here, but it ties in with what is to come. On March 16th, 2008, the Sunday Enquirer had an article on page A24 about the brain and improvising musicians. You’ve probably read in recent years about research, which shows that musicians who have been immersed in music since the very earliest years, which generally means pianists and violinists, have developed the brain in some areas, quite differently than non-musicians. I refer to Oliver Sacks’ book Musicophilia, about the brain and music, in which he talks of many conditions of the brain related to music; of the man struck by lightning who suddenly becomes a virtuoso, and of the condition amusia, in which a person can no longer hear music as music, but as sound only, and much more. I’ll get back to that because it figures into the story I’m telling you. I’ve been wondering if my limited musicianship would show up in a brain scan.

I haven’t had time enough to ponder how that fits in with some earlier brain research news, that older people, of which I seem to be one, get a bit more daring as they age. More on that later; it is time to introduce the subject of sax.

Which means going back to high school. I loved playing oboe in the band and orchestra, but I liked the sorts of music that aren’t played there, and I was developing an interest in jazz and big bands, so my parents bought me an alto sax. I never took any lessons, other than talking with sax players from time to time. And eventually I was playing in bands for dances around town once in a while. The sax was with me through my time in the Navy, and when I got out I bought a baritone sax. Soon I was playing the baritone on most of the few jobs that came my way. This was not every week or even every month, but I played.

I believe that this was good experience for my future duties at WGUC. I once read that George Szell, who conducted the Cleveland Orchestra for many years, preferred brass and wind players who had some dance band or jazz experience. Beyond that, when you play for dances, you learn to pace the various pieces. You find that if you follow a fast piece that had crowded the dance floor with another fast piece, not many will stay on the floor. And too many slow romantic ballads in a row is not a good idea. Whether I thought about it or not, I do believe it helped me in programming the music on WGUC, which became an important part of my job.

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