Chapter 27 1965 - The Clarinet

By the time I entered seventh grade he was an expert in all things musical. He could sit down at the piano and play by ear any piece of music he heard. He sang beautifully, and his parents encouraged him to take up an instrument in the school band. He chose the clarinet.

The instrument was much different than playing the piano and held a distinct advantage over his attempts to play the guitar: it fit his hands. For no matter how much he tried to finger chords, the fact was this: his fingers were too short. He really wanted to play the guitar, and would listen for hours to guitarists on the radio, but couldn’t get past his physical limitation.

The clarinet was hardly a challenge for him, it seemed nothing was, and he took to it very quickly. Before long, the other kids in the band would stop when he played and just listen. His technique was mesmerizing. When the occasional brave soul chose to challenge him to a playing contest, I would pretend that he was not good enough, and expressed fear of losing. But in the end, he would play perfectly, and the challenger would sulk away, much like a dog with his tail between his legs.

I’s band teacher entered him in competition after competition and he always walked away with the first prize, and usually a sizable cash prize as well, generally earmarked for the school. The I Mall Appreciation Trophy Cabinet was dedicated in his honor just to hold the many awards he brought home.

But while his teacher was proud, I’s new attitude of superiority began to alienate him from his friends. I was certain it was simple jealousy and he ignored it. If they couldn’t handle his greatness, then that was their problem.

While I thought it was their problem, he didn’t realize that loneliness was beginning to take its toll on him. When he got home from school, he went right into his room, turned on the radio and worked on his homework, and then he practiced on the clarinet, and occasionally would compose some music on the piano.

Henry and Juliette were concerned about the changes they’d seen in I. They spoke to Dr. Orson about it.

“He’s at the age where all kids are beginning to change, “ he advised. “This is something he’ll grow out of in time.”

Henry accepted the doctor’s assessment, but Juliette was not so sure.

“I’ve seen him come home, day after day, and he just sits in his room and sulks,” Juliette explained. “It’s not healthy for him to be so isolated all the time.”

Dr. Orson offered yet another assessment. “Your long separation four years ago may have finally taken a toll on him as well. There is likely some deep seated resentment left over from that experience, possibly towards the both of you.”

“But we’ve given him everything,” Henry protested. “All his needs have been met, we revealed his ‘destiny,’ we provided him a way to experience it through his clarinet. What more?”

“Do you spend time with him?” Dr. Orson probed.

“Of course we do,” Juliette was upset at the implication of the doctor’s statement. “He always has our full attention. Both Henry and I spend as much time as possible with him.”

“Perhaps, then, it’s the opposite,” the Doctor explained. “He’s retreating to his room because otherwise he does not have any personal space of his own. Maybe you need to back off a little on the attention, and the situation will improve.”

Juliette was taken aback. “I don’t think I can do that. I vowed at his birth that I would always be there for him. I don’t want to see a time come were he feels he has to come to me pleading for attention.”

“But you must,” the doctor advised. “The consequences are unpredictable, but the pattern does seem to be established for failure.”

“Failure?” Henry was surprised at the seriousness of the doctor’s statement. “He can’t fail. He’s the best there is!”

“I’m sure you’re proud of your son’s accomplishments, but you must not let them take over his life. He must have balance.”

“And how do we do that?” Henry asked.

“Get him involved in sports, help him to met other kids, find him a new hobby. Music can’t be his whole life.”

Henry agreed that they would give it a try. Juliette secretly kept it to herself that she thought the doctor was a quack.