When I entered middle school, which we called junior high school, I asked my parents if I could begin taking music lessons so I could join the marching band that played at all our football games and parades. They said yes, and retrieved two dusty coated saxophones, one an alto in B flat, the other a C melody. My parents had played in a church band before I was born.
I never heard that all saxophone band. If I had heard it, I might never have learned to play my alto sax. Nothing except perhaps violin sounds so terrible as an out-of-tune saxophone in a beginner’s hands.
I did not like the sound of the C melody sax. So I took the alto sax to school, where the band director gave me a fingering chart which showed which finger to press down to play which note. I sat in the corner of the school auditorium and learned to play with only a little instruction from the band director.
Months went by and I taught myself to play all the notes on the chart. Then the band director ordered me to play in a beginners band in his office. Our sound was terrible and so fast I was lost at first. I never thought I could ever catch up with the other beginners, but I did. By the ninth grade, I was playing in both the high school band and orchestra.
In my senior year, at age 17 I joined a dance band and became a dues-paying member of the American Federation of Musicians. I held my professional union card for three years, including my tour in Japan in the Fifth Army Air Corps band.
My dance band played nightly, except for Monday, at the Jacksonville Beach Pier for 3« months in the summer of 1945. I earned $50 a week and had a super summer living and playing at the beach.
Later, I played my sax in two of the colleges at which I taught. When I retired to Gainesville, I met a member of the Believers Band at the First United Methodist Church, I was invited to join that band. I did join and played three or four years until my fingers began to tremble and then freeze as a result of my now having Parkinson’s disease.
Music is at the center of my experience. I especially like Christmas time and all the good music of the season.
This year, I went to the 10th Living Christmas Tree presentation at First Baptist Church with some friends. I was deeply moved by the quality of the singers so tightly packed into the tree platform. The singers, soloists and orchestra members presented an impressive program. I have heard many Christmas music programs and this was certainly one of the most professional and beautiful presentations.
The young woman who danced interpretation was a delightful addition to an already great program.
The next weekend, I drove down to Griffin to see my sister and her husband in a Christmas play with a dozen young people at Crestview Baptist Church. The young people seemed to enjoy their parts in the play more than the adults.
I will never forget the smiling faces of the youngsters, especially the young man who did not like his part as a donkey. He made us all laugh. Christmas should have joy, and that program was rich in all respects.
We also attended a concert by choir and orchestra of the Second Baptist Church of Griffin. That music was beautiful. The song and words seemed to float in the air of that impressive sanctuary.
The organ at my church, First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville, is being upgraded, so our music program was not as extensive as it will be next year. However, we had several Christmas presentations. The most unusual was the presentation by our three children’s choirs who sang for us supported by a country band with fiddle, guitars, base violin, harmonica and hammered dulcimer. Everybody joined in singing some of the traditional Christmas carols.
The kids had so much fun. Some were a little frightened, but they did better than expected. And about eight of them played dulcimers which they had just learned to play. They sounded miles ahead of my early saxophone music.
Christmas music makes this the best time of the year for me. I am glad to be a Christian and listen to others who share Christmas joy for the entire world.
Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly on Mondays. Today, we offer a special holiday column.