Musical talents are noteworthy

November 20, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

At the recent Washington County All-County Orchestra concert, Schools Superintendent Betty Morgan made an impassioned speech in which she essentially said, "The thing that is left when you forget everything you've learned in books is (and here, I thought she was going to say 'Republicans' but she took the high ground) is your education."

I tried to noodle through what that meant. Since I almost instantly forget what I have just read, it seemed for a moment I might be among the most educated people in the world. Or maybe it was like Mark Twain said, "I never let school get in the way of my education."

But I think the point was that schools attempt to create well-rounded individuals, and music is part of that balance - which may explain why I am so imbalanced.

I tried not to be so depressed as I listened to these wonderful students performing so brilliantly. Kids 30 times younger than I with 30 times the talent, not to put too fine a point on it.


I vividly remember that in fourth grade every kid who wanted one was handed an instrument called a "flute-o-phone" and sent off to the cafeteria for a crash course in "Row Row Row Your Boat," with the best and brightest targeted for the school band. The resulting strains moaning up from that basement likely confused many a flock of southbound geese because it sounded remarkably like a congregation of waterfowl whose anguished souls had been damned to an eternal plucking.

Long story short, I flunked flute-o-phone.

Even with the general lack of talent that year, I couldn't make the cut. I was devastated. Or I was for about two seconds, until I realized that if I were in band I would have to drag around one of those 700-pound tubas that kids were always struggling to carry on their backs and bonking everyone with an aisle seat on the back of the head with as they exited the school bus.

Besides, I had no use for music; I wanted to grow up to be a farmer. No kidding, that was my dream. While other boys were pretending to throw touchdown passes in the Super Bowl, I was planting pretend alfalfa and mowing hay with a pretend tractor. I raised pretend cash crops and sold them to pretend grocery stores.

The closest I came to realizing this dream was at age 12 when I grew a real crop of cucumbers and took them to a greengrocer named Sam. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that size came at the cost of tenderness, and I had let these cucumbers grow to roughly the size of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Sam bought them out of pity for a quarter.

When I was 15, I got a job on a real farm and was forever cured of the farming disease in about three hours, somewhere between loading hay bales and castrating the piglets.

But my interest was piqued again this week when I read the column by Washington County Extension Agent Jeff Semler, who was writing about the tough choices faced by farmers who must pick between the vocation they love and selling their land for big money.

The word "tough," to my thinking, is relative. Jeff gives a hypothetical example of a modest chunk of farmland that easily goes today for $1.5 million if it is used to grow houses instead of corn.

I keep picturing the farmer sitting there in the kitchen thinking, "What to do today, what to do? Do I want to bank $1.5 million, or do I want to get up at 5:30 tomorrow morning and castrate piglets?"

All you people out there who like to eat should be thanking your lucky whole wheat loaves that farming discouraged me at such an early age.

I love the land, I love working the soil through my fingers and I love nurturing seedlings. I even love liming and fertilizing, the smell of hay and the barnyard, cultivation, animal husbandry and watching the skies for signs of rain. As a matter of fact, the only thing I can think of that I love more than all of that is $1.5 million.

With the approach of the holiday, I am thankful for the farmers who stay in business and I am thankful for young musicians. And you should be thankful that I never mastered either enterprise.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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