I went to Kipling Elementary school in Deerfield, IL, for my K-6 years. In the third or fourth grade it came time for us, should we decide, to learn a musical instrument for band or orchestra. There was a specialized test they gave us that ranked our rhythm and pitch skills. Due to my height at the time, and unusually good pitch recognition, I was assigned the trombone.
So for years, under the careful tutelage of Ms. Sharon Luzum, I began to learn how to play the brass instrument. I did this throughout the rest of elementary school. When it came time for me to go to Shepard Jr. High, I decided to continue on trombone with the concert band program there.
It happened one summer during that hazy transition. I started to have… feelings I couldn’t explain. It had to do with the electric guitar. My cousin had one. It was a beige Les Paul copy by a company called Bentley. I would see it whenever we went over to my aunt’s house. It called to me. Eventually, I arranged to buy the guitar from my cousin Greg for $75.
I practiced like a madman. Generally 4 or 5 hours a day. I would record my favorite songs off the radio onto cassette and teach myself the solos. I bought sheet music and learned the chords by looking at the little boxes with dots for where your fingers went.
Fast forward to a winter day in 1983. I was sitting in the large box of a band room where Ms. Luzum (who married and was now Mrs. Gidley) was assistant directing the Shepard Jr. High concert band. I sat in the back with the other trombone guys when Mrs. Gidley announced that the band was going to be playing the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack medley. She looked up, and called me by name.
“Bill. There is an electric guitar part in this score. Would you like to play electric guitar for this song?” It was truly a rock-star moment. Everybody was looking at me now.
“Yes. Yes, I would.”
So, during the next rehearsal, Mrs. Gidley wheeled out an ancient amplifier which was meant for bass guitar- but this was good enough for me. I took my guitar out of its case and carefully fingered along the chords that floated by on the top of the rest of the music staff.
Now, to be clear, this was near the very beginning of my electric guitar journey, so things were a bit rocky, but in my head I was hitting every note like a champ. A few months passed and it was time for the concert in front of all the parents and students. We began with a few songs which I played on trombone. Then it came time for my rock and roll debut: The Saturday Night Fever medley.
As Mrs. Gidley addressed the crowd, I wandered to the side of the stage where sat the large amplifier and my guitar case. I threw the strap over my head and sat down with my Bentley electric guitar. In my metal folding chair I looked straight ahead at my music stand.
After her small speech and before the medley, Mrs. Gidley quietly walked around over to me and turned the volume on my amplifier all the way down. She walked back to the podium and we began the song. I strummed along silently.
After the concert, she came up to me and dispensed “I think it’s time you put away your guitar and start practicing your trombone a little more.”