I pulled my electric guitar out of its cozy confines of the velvet-lined case, strapped it on, plugged into the amplifier, turned it up obnoxiously high and scraped the strings with unbridled passion. The windows rattled, the dog hid, my wife yelled but I tuned her out. I plucked out a series of heavy metal riffs sounding so thick and beefy that metal heads would have saluted me with respect. I felt good, I felt primal and I loved it. For all I know, it sounded like fingernails on a chalk board but to me, I was soaring with the guitar gods.
Non-electric guitar players won’t understand the feeling except for maybe drummers who are just as deaf but endure more verbal abuse. I pity the parents of drummers who withstand the nerve shattering pounding of beginning drumming. It probably all started when their kid received a five-piece toy drum set for their birthday that was given to them by a non-parent. The father proceeded to set it up while cussing about the person who bought it. Next thing you know the kid was beating the holy hell out of the things while the parents laughed and tried to be patient with little Johnny’s self-expression. After the cuteness wore off, the noise factor turned into a restriction on playing. This usually took three days before someone in the family lost it and hid the drumsticks.
I enjoy listening to the dozens of instruments of a symphony orchestra. I‘m awed at the level of talent it takes to be part of this large group of musicians. I also wonder how they practice their craft. For instance, how do you practice the kettle drums? The massive beast of a drum must send the neighborhood into bellowing war chants, “Crush, kill, destroy” directed at the individual who’s pounding the blasted things. How do you practice the gong? the bassoon or the trombone in an apartment or tract home neighborhood.
I once lived across the street from a young man who was learning trumpet. There are no walls thick enough to dampen the wretched noise from a beginner on trumpet. A month of “Three Blind Mice” was proceeded by “Old McDonald.” These were songs that every parent loved singing to their children while they sat in the backseat of the car. For me they had been reduced to torture and I would do anything to make the pain go away. I guess I can be thankful he wasn’t learning the marching band tuba, otherwise known as the Sousaphone. I can see it now; the family must put on those headphones that the groundcrew wear for directing aircraft and the Chrystal glassware must be secured. In addition, the poor kid who is learning marching band tuba is never going to impress the girls on talent show day.
The children that learn stringed instruments such as violin, viola and the cello can find notes that can make a screeching cat fight sound good. There seems to be a very fine line between the correct note to play and the misplayed ear piercing one that can be heard over a whole ensemble. After years of practice and dedication to their stringed instruments, the sour notes somehow disappear, and parents don’t have to cringe during class recitals.
When I do play my electric guitar, I try to hit the correct notes and rarely turn up the volume where it is considered a public nuisance. I have to put the noise I generate into perspective to the other sounds coming from my neighborhood. There is my neighbor who sits on his Harley Davidson, revving like its bringing him to orgasm. Then we have the guy on the block who owns the king of all leaf blowers. It’s basically a Volkswagen engine strapped on his back connected to a bazooka which allows him to blow all debris to smithereens. The biggest noise crime of them all is the fellow who lives behind me. He will use every power tool invented by Black and Decker on a Sunday morning.
So next time when you are listening to an orchestra, think about the families and neighborhoods who must tolerate the thousands of sour notes and spine curling racket. There will be a time after much patience and practice, the flute that once sounded like a squeaky screen door can now make me think of leaping long hair gnomes prancing through the forest. When a drummer finally learns his craft, the beats can be satisfying that even a lousy dancer like myself can find the rhythm. Lastly, even the vaulted bagpipes can bring tears to my eyes when the player hits those first line of notes of “Amazing Grace.”