“Hello Mrs. McGuire, we need to talk about your son.” That was a sentence that my mom heard dozens of times during my grade school and high school years. Every time, except the first time, there was damn good reasons for that phone call. I still have every report card from 1st through 12th grade and everything you needed to know about me was always on the back side. The grade side was usually A’s with just a few B’s over the years, but the back side always had checkmarks in the same two or three boxes. 1) DISRUPTIVE IN CLASS. 2) PERFORMING BELOW POTENTIAL. 3) BAD CONDUCT
Today’s report cards have dozens of “positive” comments, but in my day the back of the report card only had negative stuff and I dreaded bringing home all those check-marked boxes on the back side.
But the first time my mom heard those words (“we need to talk”) were not from a teacher but from a super-slick sales guy who was totally “BS’n” my mom. If he was still alive I’d kiss him because his BS changed my life for the better.
I was six years old when this big fat man with a peg leg hobbled into the classroom. I don’t know if he paid off the priest or nuns to get to talk to my class but there he was up in the front of the class telling us he had a special treat for us and we were going to love it. He had me sold already and I didn’t have a clue what he was selling. He then motioned towards the door as he told us, “Boys and girls, if you clap for Judy she’ll play something special for you. As we clapped our hands, a very pretty young girl, probably in high school, came walking in with this big box on her shoulders with buttons and keys all over its colorful container. We were about to hear “Lady of Spain” played on an Accordion, complete with bellow-shaking, finger-flying dexterity that exploded our little five-year old brains. That pretty Judy won our hearts and tickled our ears as she finished with a flourishing loud climax and we cheered.
Then came the question. The big fat man smiled broadly and shouted loudly, “How many of you boys and girls would like to play an accordion like that?” Every single hand went up, along with a loud chorus of, “Me, me, me.”
Then came the challenge. “Let’s see how well you do on your musical aptitude test and maybe some of you will be “lucky” enough to qualify.” We were all nervous as he passed out his 10 question test with difficult choices to make like: Do you like music? Do you want to play music? Do you want to play the accordion?
Then, a few days passed and here came the close. “We need to talk about your son’s musical aptitude test.” I remember my mom smiling broadly as she was told what a little five year old musical prodigy she had because I scored unbelievably high on the test. Just $19.95 and they would give me a “free” accordion, six lessons, including all the music and we would see how far this little guy can go.
Of course, you can guess the rest of the story. After the fourth lesson, my parents got the same call with the same leading sentence. “We need to talk.” Of course they needed to talk to my parents and tell them how incredible I was doing and I was ready to move up to an “intermediate” sized accordion with an “advanced “private teacher. The accordion was only $300 and lessons were $4 a week and I was on my way to becoming a musical sensation.
This scam worked wonders. In my little small town of 40,000 people this one store had over 400 kids playing those damn accordions. This was before rock and roll and before I found out guitar players, not accordion players, got the girls. As you can see, just a few more years and my brother found out that guitar was the way to go. In our little duo, he got all the girls.
Follow up information:
First of all, I loved sports. I played every sport. Before my parents would sacrifice their hard-earned dollars for music instruments or lessons I had to solemnly swear I would practice my accordion before I ever played sports or went outside to play with my friends. That was an easy promise to make but a difficult one to keep. They stuck to their end and made me stick to my promise. Secondly, I developed a life-long love of making music, teaching music, writing music and making my living from music.
I thank the big fat man for his cute accordion playing girl and his phony aptitude test because, in the long run, raising my six year old hand was one of the greatest choices I ever made.
I also found there were other musical things with keys to press, besides those heavy hanging boxes with buttons.