It wasn’t the first time the 7-year-old wandered into the room. She remembers that she had been bored by a ladies’ party that was taking place at the time.
She used to sit in on harp lessons that were given in the room. Her aunt was a harp professor at the Madrid Conservatory. Sometimes the girl would sit and play with the instrument. Remembering the way her aunt had told the students to hold their shoulders, arms and hands, she would attempt one of the beginning studies she came to know.
On this occasion, she was overheard in the next room and mistaken for a student who had come by on a day when no lessons were scheduled. The little girl’s aunt was indeed surprised to find her niece making the musical sounds. She told the girl that beginning the next day, she would begin to study the harp.
The Spanish harpist Marisa Robles told that story in an interview of several years ago with Ieuan Jones. I repeated it, along with playing a performance featuring Robles on May 4th, which was the harpist’s 80th birthday.
Within an hour or so of telling the story on the air, a group of 4th graders came by on a tour. You may have heard me mention on my Classic Mornings radio promo the school children who visit Campbell Hall. There have been many in recent weeks.
Yes, I continue to tell them that I host a program called Classic Mornings with classical music and stories about the music. Well, this was one of those instances in which I shared a story with them that I had just presented on the radio. I assured them that sometimes just by observing and listening, they might learn or discover something that could change their lives.
I wasn’t so sure about relating to the young visitors the stories about Norwegian trumpeter Ole Edvard Antonsen, which I told to the radio audience on the musician’s 55th birthday back on April 25th. At age 3, Antonsen had begun to study the piano. By the time he was 5, the family piano was moved into the basement. He was too afraid to go into the dark basement.
He went looking for another instrument, which he found in a trunk in the attic. It was an old dented trumpet. It belonged to his father: a dance band conductor, saxophonist and clarinettist who gave Antonsen his first trumpet lessons. Actually, his arms were too short to play the trumpet, so his parents bought him a cornet.
No one has mentioned if and when the young boy ever got up the courage to go into the basement. It’s funny he didn’t lose the courage to go onstage after a debut at age 6 with his father’s dance band. They say he didn’t wear a belt, and so a loose fitting pair of pants fell to his knees in front of some 2500 people.
Apparently, it wasn’t that traumatic. By age 20, he was a member of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. Eventually, he began a successful solo career. Besides performing works for trumpet and orchestra from over the centuries, he has performed and recorded contemporary and new compositions. Back in 1992, a crossover recording that included trumpet versions of music by the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith was a hit in Norway and made him a household name.
Speaking of household names, last Tuesday I began the program with a celebration of the 265th birthday of a composer/oboist by the name of Lebrun. I just knew that for many listeners another name would come to mind. And for those whose thoughts were at courtside, I explained that Ludwig August Lebrun was quite a player in the court orchestra of Mannheim. OK, it’s a different kind of court, namely the residence of a ruler or those who selected the rulers back then. But even in that court, Lebrun too had his start as a pro when he was a teenager. He was 15.
A group of school children came by that morning as well. And indeed, one of the first things I told them was that I had celebrated the birthday of Lebrun on the radio. After I saw them perk up, I was sure to repeat that it was Lebrun and not you-know-who. I told them that I knew I would get their attention, just as I had gotten the attention of radio listeners. I wanted them to know that we can have a little fun with this music that’s often considered to be so serious. And maybe I gave them a little insight into the importance of a catchy opening for one of their own school presentations.
I often tell the children about the benefits of preparation. Sometimes the payoff can be surprising. Years ago, when preparing a Vivaldi mini-series, I sent a message to one of the performers on the recording asking which of the many players listed were featured in the bass part of a particular work. I wanted to cover every last detail. The performer responded that it had been awhile and that he couldn’t remember. He suggested I send a message to another performer on the recording who might have a better idea, though he added that I should “pray for an answer.” I got the message and never really found out who plays on which tracks. But it never fails to bring a smile and a memory which I shared with listeners recently and here, with you.
There are more stories where those came from – and music to go along. Join me for Classic Mornings, Monday through Friday from 9 to noon on FM 90.9 and online at will.illinois.edu.