Strike Up The Band

By Joe Talbot Jr. | Apr 26, 2018

During my four years at CHS, I had a genuine love for music. I took private piano lessons for a few years, starting when I was 11. Myrtle Wheeler was my teacher, and I always referred to her as an ex- member of the Gestapo, (just kidding) as her weapon of choice was a metal knitting needle. Miss a note, or add a note, or get the timing off, and a whack of the needle on your fingers was the reward! I learned the basic rudimentary chord structure, and how to put them to use, but she wanted me to learn the "classic” style of piano, because she told me that would give me the more complete tool box. I didn't have the classic desire, and when my fingers became knurled and ugly, she gave in and allowed me to take the plunge into popular music, and I really fell in love with Jazz, and improvisation. I later totally regretted not sticking with the lessons until after high school, but I wouldn't practice like I should have, so when I got into high school, saving my mother the money for lessons seemed to be my way out of escaping the torturous needle lady. It seems hindsight is far more correct than immediate sight, and I've silently thanked Myrtle a thousand times for making me toe the mark. Thanks to a really terrific teacher & band director, Roger Calderwood, Myrtle's efforts gave me a head start, and I learned many instruments, and eventually became immersed in the band.

I don't remember whether it was my junior or senior year that the whole band was invited to some kind of band competition to be held at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. That was a real thrill for me, the various practices and comparison of our skills against other bands was absolutely a pinnacle of music appreciation, and we all felt like we represented CHS proudly, with reasonable proficiency. I can't remember how we placed or if we placed, but that really wasn't what mattered. What mattered was that we were at a famous Ivy League University, and for me, I was with a lot of kids that I had started in the first grade with, and now 11 or 12 years later we were all enjoying something that we would never forget, a really high point!

I remember we marched in the Memorial Day Parade all four years, we played occasional concerts for the town, a few times in the Camden Opera House, and mostly in the gym at the High School on Knowlton Street.

Somewhere along the way, I joined a drum & bugle corps in Rockland, but for the life of me I can’t remember the name of it. Bottom line……I really enjoyed it, and we were pretty good, we thought.

I guess my interest in music, basketball, skiing, etc., overpowered my interest in academics, so my grade-point average was only just that, average. I started college at Nasson College, in Springvale, and a year later transferred to U.M. Orono. The summer before I reported in for the fall semester, I got a job working for Viner's Music, in Bangor. When the fall semester started, I worked late afternoons and early evenings in the store selling instruments. Viner's had a large selection of 33 1/3 rpm albums and records, and they had a few listening booths, where you could take a record out of the jacket and listen, to see if you wanted to buy it.

One Saturday morning I saw five guys crowded into a booth, and one of them was holding a record jacket in such a way that I could read it through the glass. It read, "The Dukes Of Dixieland,” a very popular Dixieland Band. When they came out, I asked them if they were going to buy the album and they said "of course" so I rang up the sale. I asked one of them if they were a Dixieland Band, and he told me yes, they were the University Of Maine Black Bears. I talked with them awhile, and asked them to show me which instrument each one of them played, corresponding with the "Dukes.” When they were finished, I pointed out to them they were missing one. They said, “Yeah, we know, but we can't find a good tuba player that can play without written music.” I immediately said, “Really? I can do it." They were a bit skeptic, but the leader said, "Joe, do you have a tuba?" I looked at him kinda funny, dropped my chin a bit, and rolled my eyes up, as if I were looking over glasses, and just put both of my arms straight out from my sides, and moved a little, as if to say...look around you!" They laughed, and said, “We got a gig Friday night at one of the frat houses, and then we play at the Student Union Hall on Saturday afternoon. Why don’t you come Friday night to sit in, and if it works for you and works for us, join us for Saturday as well."

I had a lot of trouble sleeping until Friday night came around. To make a long story short, so the saying goes, we ended up playing at many Maine colleges, and two or three of the Ivy League Schools, including Yale, Princeton, Harvard, and Boston College. I had an absolute ball. As a result of my musical wanderings around New England that year I managed to flunk out of college with honors. Not the kind that gets you a great job, but the experience was an A-Plus!

I went to see a recruiter, and joined the Air Force. I didn't have to think twice about what my mother’s reaction would be. One of my Dad's “Sports" had kindly offered to pay my tuition, room, board and books for college, and I had just managed to toss it all down the toilet in one "swell foop.” I then went home with the good news that I was going to serve my country, and was destined to leave in a week from Dow Air Force Base in Bangor, to a secret base that even I did not know the whereabouts of it, as I was going to a highly-classified designated school. (This lie was construed so mom wouldn't know where to send a hit man to come and find me.) The look on her face was enough to convince me I better come clean, so I did, and a few days later mother and dad took me to my departure plane.

I’ll pick up where I left off next week.


Joe Talbot is a former columnist for Peterson Publications’ “Off Road Magazine” and “Four Wheeler Magazine.” He lives in Belfast.


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