Riverland Terrace School had a program that provided music lessons to students. Together with Leonard’s School of Music students were able to rent instruments and take lessons during school hours. This arrangement had been very good for those musically inclined. All those who signed up were not necessarily worthy.
One day in 1955 a representative from Leonard’s School of music entered our classroom. He smiled and place several boxes on the teacher’s desk. We sat attentively eyes forward with question marks reflected therein.
“Children,” said our teacher. “Mr. Leonard is here to test your aptitude for music. Some of you will enjoy this next half hour. I want you all to give him your devoted attention.”
We sat straighter in our desks swiveling our heads to smile at friends or, in my case, with a look of perplexity. My only real encounter with music during my short life had been my mother’s love of singing. She was a member of the choir at church. She had a lovely voice which I did not truly appreciate at that early age of 9. I wasn’t a big fan of Mario Lanza whose works my mother loved. She had several of his records which she played often.
Mr. Leonard brought me back to class with his booming voice.
“All right, children. I’m going to pass out some papers I want you to hold onto until I can get my equipment to work. On these papers I will ask you to mark the questions asked after each sound issues from my speaker here.”
He turned to the black box on the desk. It was plugged into the wall. There was a click as the pressed the switch. The speaker wailed a screechy noise.
“AAAH!” we all screamed slamming our palms over our ears.
“Sorry. Sorry.” He said adjusting the black box through knobs protruding from the top. “OK, that should do it.”
He turned to the class.
“If you will look at the paper in your hands you will see questions one through ten. I am going to issue some sounds through this amplifier and I want you to mark on the sheet what you hear. The first question asks if the two sounds you are about to hear sound the same to you. It’s a very simple succession of such questions. With the answers we will see if you would be good at taking music lessons. Those of you who score high would have a good chance of learning to play an instrument quickly with a great deal of enjoyment. Those who don’t do well probably wouldn’t have any interest in playing an instrument and it would save you the trouble of learning the hard way.”
The first sounds came through the speaker.
“Let me play those sounds again.” The two sounds issued from the speaker again.
“Mark yes or no to the first question. Did those sounds seem the same to you.”
The next 9 questions were repeated in the same manner.
I could not distinguish the sounds so well and my answers were questionable to me. So I answered them with guesses each time.
When we had answered number 10 Mr. Leonard asked us to pass the papers up front after we placed our names at the top. While the rustling of papers proceeded to the front he packed up his equipment. The teacher handed the stack of papers to him.
“Al l right, let’s see how we did.” He quickly looked through them. He placed a mark at the top of several of them, then, looked at the class.
“I see several of you have very high marks. I would very much like to speak with those children.”
Having always achieved high marks on all my tests thus far, I sat expectantly for my name to be called.
Four classmates were called to the front of the room. I wasn’t one of them.
Those four huddled around Mr. Leonard at the desk. Their talk was done in quiet tones. When finished the four, all smiles, returned to their seats.
“Thank you, children.” He said after which he picked up his boxes and left.
I was aghast at not having been asked to the front to speak with him along with the other four. I’d never failed a test. It was my first failure. I didn’t know how to react. The rest of the day was a loss for me. I simply could not get over receiving no recognition of making a good grade on a test.
The teacher closed the door after he left.
“Well, children, that was fun wasn’t it?”
The classroom began to buzz with yeses and noes.
“Why did so many fail?” The shout came out of my mouth without thought.
“What do you mean, Rickey? That wasn’t a test.”
“It sure seemed like one.” I shot back.
“I can see where you might feel that way but it was just a means of seeing if anyone was inclined toward music.”
“Do we get to see our grades?” asked another student.
“There were no grades.”
“Why did he call them up to the front?” asked another pointing to the four.
“The questions indicated that those particular students have an aptitude for music. He wanted to see if any of them were interested in learning to play an instrument.”
“What if we wanted to play one? Does that mean we can’t?” another student asked.
“No, of course not. The music program is for anyone who wants to learn. It just so happens that this test provides information about a student’s ability to distinguish sounds. It has been a very good guide for the music teachers to see which children will have an easier time learning to play. All right, I think we’ve given enough time to this. Let’s get out your readers.”
Her explanation did nothing to ease the sense of failure in my mind. The day droned on until the final bell. I walked across the golf course and across Maybank Highway for home.
That weekend my mother was concerned about my mood.
“Rickey, what’s wrong?”
“I know you better than that. What’s wrong, honey?”
“We had to take a test last week and I failed.”
“You don’t fail tests. What subject was it?”
“It was something to do with music. We had 10 questions and I didn’t pass.”
“Let me see that test paper.”
“They didn’t give it back to us. He kept them.”
“He? Who’s he?” she asked.
“Some guy from the music school on Maybank Highway.”
“You mean Leonard’s School of Music?”
“Yes’m. It was Mr. Leonard. He kept the test papers.”
“How do you know you failed?”
“‘Cause he called the four who passed up to the front of the room. He didn’t call me. So I musta failed.”
“I don’t remember you telling me you had to study for a music test.”
”I didn’t know about it. None of us did. He said it would tell him who could take music lessons and who couldn’t.”
“I’m going to call your teacher to find out about this.”
She went directly to the phone.
I went into my room. I knew my momma would straighten it out. She’d find out why they gave a test without giving us time to study. She’d get it straight. I grabbed a Mighty Mouse funny book and plopped on my bed.
Half way through Mighty Mouse mom came into my room.
“That test isn’t something you have to worry about, Rickey. It’s not part of your grades. It’s only an aptitude test. They’re just trying to find out who would like to be involved with music.”
“So, since I failed I can’t take music?”
“No. Have you ever wanted to play a musical instrument?”
“I don’t know. I never thought about it.”
“What instrument would you like to play?” She asked not expecting an answer.
“What is that thing Harry James plays?” I asked with a new light in my eyes.
“He plays trumpet. Do you want to play the trumpet?” My mother asked with a touch of disbelief in her tone.
“Yes!” I said with real enthusiasm. At that moment I wanted to play the trumpet with all my heart.
“Why don’t you ask your teacher what you need to do to learn. We’ll see after that.”
Monday morning came and I was in the classroom at the teacher’s desk first thing.
“Yes, Rickey. What do you need?”
“My mom asked me to ask you what I need to do to learn how to play the trumpet.” My face beamed with a huge smile.
“Do you want to play the trumpet?” She asked with a touch of disbelief in her tone.
“If you feel that strongly then take these papers home and have your parents fill them out then bring them back to me. I’ll see that Mr. Leonard gets them.”
The following week Mr. Leonard came into the classroom. He requested the four students already chosen to come with him. As they stepped out into the hall he turned back and said, “Rickey Croucher, will you come with us too?”
With a huge smile on my face I jumped up and ran to the door.
“Yes sir!” I said.
We walked down the hall to another classroom. It was here that the music lessons were taught.
The five of us sat down in respective desks.
Mr. Leonard stood in front of us.
“Each of you has signed up to learn how to play a musical instrument. I’ve brought each of you the one you have requested. Your parents have agreed to the rental fees so let’s not disappoint them.”
I squirmed in my chair as he called each student by name. Up to the table in front they marched. Mr. Leonard opened the case to each instrument and placed it in the student’s hand. He gave a few minutes explanation about that particular piece. He then closed the case and handed it to the pupil.
“Rickey, come on up,” he said smiling.
I rushed to the table. There sat my case with my very own trumpet. My excitement rose.
He opened the case. He picked up the instrument in all its splotchy brass color and handed it to me.
I held it in my hand.
“Here, let me show you how to hold it.”
Something wasn’t quite right here, I thought. This didn’t look like any trumpet I’d seen in pictures of Harry James.
“Are you sure this is a trumpet?” I asked.
“No, Rickey. This is a cornet.”
“What’s a cornet?”
“It’s like a trumpet.”
“But I want a trumpet!”
“Your hands are too small to play a trumpet so I got you the next best thing. Your hands can hold this and work the valves much easier. With a trumpet your hands would have problems.”
“But I want a trumpet, a real trumpet.”
“You’ll have to settle on the cornet until your hands have grown into a trumpet. Learning the cornet is the best way to get yourself ready for that day.”
“But I want a trumpet.”
“I’m sorry. This will have to do for now. I promise, everything you learn to play on the cornet will be the same as if it were a trumpet.”
My disappointment was evident but I replaced the cornet in the case. I snapped the clasps, picked it up and walked back to my desk.
I smoldered while he gave out the books to study for our first class the next week.
When I got home I slung the case onto my bed.
“What’s wrong, Rickey?” asked my mother.
“He said I couldn’t play the trumpet.”
“What’s in that case you just threw across the room?”
“It’s a crummy cornet.”
“That’s like a trumpet isn’t it? Did they run out of trumpets?”
“No ma’am. He said my hands weren’t big enough to reach the buttons on a trumpet so I had to settle for a crummy cornet.”
“It looks like a trumpet to me,” mom said. She had retrieved the case and pulled the horn from within.
“No it doesn’t. See that bend in the tube here and it’s too short to be a real trumpet.”
“I bet if you learn to play this you can easily pick up a trumpet one day when you have grown and blast away with all the training you’ll pick up.” She was trying to show me the benefit of the cornet.
Stubborn cuss that I was I didn’t see it that way. I took the lessons for three, maybe four weeks. My heart wasn’t in it because I wanted a trumpet and a crummy cornet just wasn’t going to fulfill that desire.
I never put my heart into practicing on that crummy cornet. My mother said if I wasn’t going to practice there was no sense paying the rental for the horn. I had to agree.
I turned it in to Mr. Leonard the next week of class. He took it with a knowing smile. I walked away from my musical career on that Friday in third grade.
It’s a shame we look back on these decisions through old eyes. I have often regretted the decision of that 9 year old brat. So in 1975 I went back to Leonard’s School of Music (yup, it was still there) and bought a trumpet. My then wife bought a flute and we set up lessons for the weekends. We lived in Florence. That arrangement did not work well right along with the marriage, so, the lessons and the marriage were ended after a few years.
That trumpet is still around. Added to that is a trumpet a friend of mine left to me in his will. The desire is not so fired up as in my youth but I have begun to attempt learning to play once more. Now I have time, lots of time, and the internet. Perhaps in a few years I will be able to play a tune or two. We’ll see. And to top it off, I’d really like to learn on a cornet.