My parents made my two older sisters and me take piano lessons from the time we were six years old. Of course we complained bitterly. My dad used to say “You’ll thank me some day, honey,” and I am pleased to say that several decades later I finally had the presence of mind to do that. Now that I have kids, I know that complaining about practicing is pretty universal.
In any case, Eugene, Oregon was a great place to grow up! When I was little, Dad, a cellist, used to invite three of his friends over once a month to play string quartets in our living room. In my experience, there is no greater way for a child to fall asleep than listening to Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven String Quartets floating upwards to drowsy ears on the second floor. Dad told that, one summer quartet- reading evening, they opened the living room windows, because it was hot inside. Later, when they went to close up, they saw the front lawn full of passersby, sitting there, asking them please not to stop.
Eugene offered excellent education in the public schools, especially in proximity to the University of Oregon, and there was music in the schools. (Mom was, for many years, the Coordinator of Elementary Music Education in District 4J.) In sixth grade I picked the clarinet as the instrument I wanted to play and joined the school band. (Eventually the piano lessons faded away.) I also played in the school orchestra, when winds were needed. It was the orchestra that always captivated me!
Mom made sure I always had good teachers: my first advanced teacher was Raymond Wheeler, professor of clarinet at Central Washington College in Ellensburg, then in Eugene working on his doctorate at the University of Oregon with Robert Vagner. Mr. Wheeler had graduated from Eastman, studying with Rufus Arey, and was very good at explaining the essential basics, such as the five parts of the body we use to play the clarinet, and stopped articulations. When Mr. (then Dr.)Wheeler returned to CWCE, I began working with U of O professor of education John McManus. Professor McManus had me playing the Saint-Saens Sonata, Poulenc Sonata and the Copland Concerto—never even suggesting that they were difficult. I did the opening of the Copland with the South Eugene High School Orchestra the year I graduated; because the rest of the work was too hard for the strings, Prof. McManus brought in a pianist to read the rest of the piece with me—a guy named Victor Steinhardt. I remember thinking that playing the piece with that guy was pretty cool! (Later, as a professional, I was amazed to realize that my “accompanist” had been Guarneri Quartet violinist Arnold Steinhardt’s younger brother!)
By the time I was a junior in high school I was first chair in the Eugene Junior Symphony, led by Nathan Cammack, a wonderful musician and a conductor blessed with the gift of inspiring young people. By the time I graduated from South Eugene High School I had a nice resume started:
First chair clarinet, Oregon All-State Orchestra, May 1969, Corvallis, OR, conducted by Leonard Slatkin!
First prize clarinet, Oregon State Solo Contest, spring of 1970, playing the Poulenc Clarinet Sonata for memory, accompanied by friend Sarah McMillan
Outstanding graduating member of the Eugene Junior Symphony, 1970
First clarinet, pit orchestra, West Side Story, presented by South Eugene High School in 1968, using the original, Broadway version of the music.
Outstanding senior (shared with class president, Barry Hammarback) of the class of 1970, South Eugene High School.
So, I graduated, and moved north, to Seattle, to begin my bachelor’s degree at the University of Washington with William McColl.