Who am I? (cont’d)



Music! That’s what this Blog is really about. And yes, I am (or was) a musician.

I began at age 6 with piano lessons for my birthday present. Then around 8 years old I became a wannabe Clarinetist. I had the luxury of private lessons for many years, and all through school maintained First Chair in the Clarinet section – except for those brief stints in some lesser chair as a result of the incessant challenges. My best friend, George, played Trombone, and we’d practice together constantly.

My uncle was a noted Musicologist at Brooklyn College, and also a polished Clarinetist. I strove to become like him. I would practice the clarinet for 8-10 hours per day in the summer. Uncle Ernie was the oldest of 3 brothers. My father was the youngest and had become a Physician. The middle brother had worked his way up from shop floor to plant superintendent for Republic Steel, in Canton, Ohio.

By the time of my mid-teens, I tired of all the challenges to my coveted First Chair position, and decided to give the Bassoon a try. That was a lot of fun. I was the only Bassoonist in school, and so I traveled in peace for a while.

But around that time I also began hearing the Siren’s Song of SCIENCE! You remember (maybe not if you are much younger than me…), that President Kennedy had mandated science education for all, along with daily gym class. That year, I had to choose between summer at Interlochen, or devote myself to science. I ended up choosing to build and launch small rockets and design rocket-borne camera systems with radio control and etc. etc… Interlochen would never be my fate.

When I was a grade school kid, apart from music, I was a dullard in school. I remember once taking a makeup test at the teacher’s desk, and she asked the science question – “How many elements are there?”  I answered something stupid like “I dunno… um… 237!”. The only interesting thing to me then were the Planets!!

In the 8th grade I was assigned to Mr. Watson’s remedial math class for future machinists of America. Mr. Watson also ran the detention room after school. My classmates all had hot-rod magazines inserted in the middle of their textbooks. D-A haircuts were du Jour among them, as was smoking in the john.

Mr. Watson was all of about 5’4″ and weighed perhaps 140 lbs. But he was tyrannical. We called him Little Hitler. If he decided to discipline you, you were expected to stand at the back of the room, holding a penny against the wall with your nose, whilst holding several pounds of textbooks in each hand, arms extended horizontally, for as long as he desired.

But it was also then, that I had a budding curiosity. How was it, I wondered, that A + B = C? There was a textbook on Algebra in the bookshelf at the back of the classroom. I asked my question, and glanced at the book, and he told me to take it and read it.

Well, that was all I needed. At that point I rocketed about 10 years into future capability, and became the school math whiz. Thereafter, I was no longer the school dunce. I tested out of college calculus, and zoomed onward to graduate school in Physics. But you see that I was a late bloomer.

Back to music… When I landed in college, I took up private lessons on the Violin. It was then that I learned the curious fact that I had to learn to play flat. The violin is so loud in your ear, you see, that it actually becomes more flat sounding. But the audience still hears it as they should, unless you try to correct your own pitch while playing. Then the poor audience gets treated to the Jack Benny slightly-sharp concert. That became seared into my musical mind, and reappeared some 30 years later as a pivotal element of EarSpring.

Many years later I would finally fulfill my youthful dream of owning a Synthesizer! Now I have literally hundreds of them, as I’m sure many of you do too. But, you remember Walter (now Wendy) Carlos and Switched on Bach? I had another album back then too, called Silver Apples of the Moon by Subotnik, I think. My parents thought I was crazy, but I was just crazy about electronic music.

It was in grad school, in Astrophyics now, that I took up the Flute. We had a little quartet that I’d join at lunchtimes. So I guess I am mostly a woodwind player, or was. Now I’m mostly just back to being a 2-fingered keyboard player on my synths. I am so out of practice…

  • DM


Author: dbmcclain

Astrophysicist, spook, musician, Lisp aficionado, deaf guy

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