Why Music Matters to me
A Decisive Beginning
I have been a musician for 31 years. I started out as a trumpet player in 4th Grade. It wasn’t by choice mind you. It was because it was “chosen” for me. My brother played trumpet and we had two trumpets around the house so I was shoved in the beginning 4th grade band to play the trumpet. I had no interest in music in 4th Grade. My only exposure to music was whatever music my parents played on the radio, Lawrence Welk on my German grandfather’s TV on Friday nights or whatever random country music was playing at my Grandma’s house. Like I stated, my brother played trumpet but really as I think back to 4th grade, I can’t really remember anything musical in my life.
The trumpet it was…
I remember when I started practicing the first time, making a sound and then checking to see if anyone heard me out in the hall. Practice sessions were 5-10 minutes at first. I didn’t know what to do.
I was fortunate also to be given private lessons aside from school. It was to make me better at the trumpet. I think what intrigued me most was the collection of brass instruments my teacher lugged into the music store every Tuesday and the fact that he had me read “how to play a trumpet” every time before practice. He had a document about preparation. It was all about “how to sit straight, arching your back, feet on the floor, shoulders back, chest up and out…. How to breathe” It was weird to me at 10 years old, reading this every week. I started at 4pm right after school. I didn’t know better, but that old teacher probably taught kids every day. He was a dedicated “professional”. Being a musician was Mr. Leland’s life. Preparation stuck with me to this day. If you don’t prepare, you may not be happy with the outcome.
I moved on to Junior High School. I had a great band teacher in Mr. Sandoval. We had a full marching band and real uniforms. It was such a fun thing to do every day at school. We tried out for Disneyland (didn’t make it) and we marched in real parades. Then 7th Grade went to my head. It was still a requirement to play trumpet at home. I was the lead trumpet player. I was good at it. I played stronger and better than the others – but that was also in my head. I failed to do homework. I failed to turn in projects. I earned an F in World History. I failed as a student.
I went on academic probation and the band reviews, concerts and such were all taken away. I swore to do better in school yet goofed around all summer. I was a punk. I entered 8th grade with better grades but I was not hitting the mark. I kept afloat to stay in band. I never knew what I needed in life. And why should I?
I was 14. I wasn’t really there yet.
In February 1988, my parents moved us to Calaveras County. At that time, I only knew Lake Camanche as the place we vacationed at the first part of almost every summer. I had memories of cabin and tents. The four point grass in the swimming areas where I spent hours swimming under water. Now we lived there above the lake.
I suddenly had nothing. No cement for my beloved skateboard. No 7-11 to go hang out at the allowance I got for mowing the lawn. No friends I grew up with. No more identity.
School was H-A-R-D. Not the work. I started to buckle down a little. I actually did homework. But, I had few places to go at school. I didn’t make friends the first year. The kids were tough to get along with in middle school. I didn’t have a lot to look forward to. The only thing I knew I could do: Play a trumpet. I played in Toyon with Mrs. Hjelmervik
My mom found me a new private teacher, Mr. Romans in Lodi, CA. At first, I didn’t understand him. All that “preparation” Mr. Leland taught me was out the window. I remember my mom complaining about the money being “double” what Mr. Leland charged. I remember the long rides from Toyon to Lodi every Tuesday. It was fairly awkward at first.
Then a change came… Early summer, Mr. Romans wanted to try something new. He showed me a Baritone Horn. He asked me to put the trumpet down and play it. I did. When I was done I picked the trumpet up. He said, “NO… play the baritone again.” I did. After the lesson was done, he followed me out to the car and said to my mom: “get him a baritone! He is a baritone player.”
My mom thought he was crazy.
I was in summer school taking Algebra (as a way to “meet friends” as my mom put it) to catch up where I should be in math after my disastrous 7th grade year. I wandered down to the band room after school and met Mr. Hjelmervik for the first time. He was letting me “borrow” a horn but I remember him being disappointed I was not playing trumpet. I remember thinking this was my choice but I was scared and didn’t say a thing. However… I WAS FINALLY CHOOSING TO PLAY MUSIC.
Calaveras High School was VERY hard socially for me. It seemed like I was the new kid for almost 3 years. I didn’t grow up in Calaveras County. I didn’t know the social history. I just tried to be a teenager as awkward as it was but really in a foreign place.
I practiced every day. Two hours at a time sometimes. No breaks. I never would stop. I would play and play. Method books, pieces of music I was given. Just stuff, over and over. I even carried my Baritone Horn back in forth from school. I looked forward to Tuesday’s with Mr. Romans. I always wanted to practice and do the next lesson.
We had a marching band at Calaveras! And we got to go to Disneyland and we marched there. I got to go do the things I had missed in 7th and 8th grade. Music gave me opportunity to be with a group and to make friends. I gained a lot of support from the kids and fellow band members I met.
I made the honor roll the first quarter of my freshman year and never had a lower grade point average the rest of high school.
I had a place to go at CHS because music mattered.
In addition to the rewarding times in band, I did some things on my own. I played in 4 CMEA Solo Ensemble Festivals and achieved two command performance medals.
My senior year after three tries, I made the California All State Honor Band. (Mr. H helped me record all my tapes I sent to qualify those three years) I was honored with the opportunity and the people I met.
But the prize I sought was still ahead.
I didn’t come from money. My father always worked very hard. He still works hard to this day. We had nice things but they were earned not given. Everything my father has, he earned and I am grateful for that. His work ethic is his greatest lesson.
College was always an option, if you had grades. My parents in retrospect did not understand the opportunities out there. It was just expensive, any way you looked at it. I remember asking throughout my 11th grade year about college and about trying out at a music school. All I had was support. I had support from teachers and administrators at CHS. I had support from the music program. I had support from my friends. Not to sound shallow… it was simply support. I had to go earn it. I had learned a lot in the four years since I came to Calaveras County. I was given a wonderful opportunity by the school.
In January 1992, I had the opportunity to try out for the Conservatory of Music at the University of the Pacific. I was accepted for the fall of 1992. Pacific helped me financially with a scholarship and college became a reality. Education is the opportunity of a lifetime and was the opportunities to learn and play music that got me there. I am forever grateful. Four short years later, my grandmother, parents and brothers, and even my best friend , Faralyn, who’s now my wife, attended my graduation.
Music just mattered for me.
I have grown old, not up. After a few attempts at “a job” in music, I settled in a career in sales in the chemical industry. 18 years on, no regrets… no looking back. I still play…. Nearly every day I am home. My home office is full of music and instruments that rest beside my love of old cars. I still have goals to achieve within music for my children. But to me what I learned most in life came along the way with music:
Decisions are sometimes made for you.
Preparation is important in everything you attempt.
Change happens with and without you.
The choice is always,.. yours.
There is always time to practice.
Triumphs can be had if you are committed to the end goal.
Music Matters – Steve Baum