Replay: How Christopher Purdy Almost Became a Clarinetist

Jul 19, 2017

Classical 101 is collecting new and gently used musical instruments to put into the hands of local kids. Learn how you can help at wosu.org/replay.

I still vividly remember my first encounter with a musical instrument.

When you grow up next door to a junior-high school music teacher and your father is an amateur big-band singer rattling the walls with his LPs of Sing Along with Mitch, you either run away from the neighborhood screaming or you develop your own love of music.

I seem to have chosen the latter route.

In third grade, it was decided I would go next door and take music lessons from Miss Cavalieri. Private lessons with Miss Cavalieri cost $4 an hour— this was a lot of money in 1966.

For some reason, I was always allowed to call her "Louise" in an era when children never addressed adults by their first names. Louise taught piano, flute, clarinet, French horn and bassoon. 

It was her recommendation that I study clarinet. My parents were directed to Peter’s Music Shop on Massachusetts Avenue in Lexington, Massachusetts, to order a plastic Selmer Clarinet from Elkhart, Indiana.

A plastic clarinet with the complimentary plastic reeds was considered very modern 50 years ago. How would I have known that no real clarinetist would have been caught dead with such an instrument? But for a third-grade beginner, it was A-OK with me.

To this day, I remember opening that plastic case for the first time.

The lining was red crushed velvet. The clarinet gleamed and glowed — the silver keys catching my eye, backed by the shiny black surface of the instrument.

I can still smell the inside of the case. It smelled like my grandmother's closets, her house being my ultimate "safety zone." I remember the feel of the resin, used to grease the cork joints, on my hands.

I learned to align the joints when putting the instrument together. I learned how to deal with the plastic reeds, which, alas, tended to splinter on my tongue. I eventually learned all the fingering, and could probably do those same scales to this day.

But did I ever learn to play the clarinet or any instrument?

Nope.

Three academic degrees in music later, I can barely find middle C on the piano. Miss Cavalieri tried. I even tried. But if you don’t got it, you don’t got it.

Also in third grade, I made my way to the local public library and discovered a recording of Don Giovanni

But that’s another story.