I smiled when I found an aisle seat on my Little Rock-to-Dallas flight. A purple-haired young woman spewed spikey vibes around herself from the window seat. She glanced up, saw my white hair, sighed, and returned to her computer game.
As the passengers kept filing by, a flight attendant said, “Ladies and gentlemen in the window and aisle seats, you might as well stop looking down as people pass. This plane is full, and the middle seats are all going to fill up. Please make the other passengers feel welcome.”
I laughed out loud. The man across the aisle groaned.
Ten seconds later, a young blonde-haired, freckle-faced fellow the size of an elephant looked down at me. “Ma’am,” he said, “May I have that middle seat?”
I looked at his tuba-sized body and the piccolo-sized seat. “Sweetheart,” I said, “The aisle seat is yours.” I unbuckled and moved over. The young woman grimaced and plastered herself to the fuselage. “We can even leave the armrest back,” I offered, and he accepted.
As my young man lowered himself, he saw my luggage tag hanging down from the overhead compartment, my Harry Potter Platform 9 ¾ luggage tag.
“You’d love my grandmother,” he said.
“How on earth do you know that?”
“Your luggage tag.” He pointed upward.
“Oh!” My eyes lit up. I love other old ladies who love Harry Potter. “Tell me about her,” I said.
“She’s a retired professor of music theory at (prestigious university).”
I sat up straighter. “Impressive,” I said. “Very impressive.”
“Yes,” he said, “It has a wonderful music program. And my grandfather was a music librarian there. He cataloged every piece of music at that university in his career.”
“Goodness! You have musical blood running through your veins,” I said, patting his arm. “Are you a music major?”
“I’m not in college.”
“Oh. You’re still in high school. What do you play?”
“I’m not in high school. I graduated last May.”
“So… you’re taking a year off before college to travel?”
“No. I’m working construction.”
“Oh. Well, that’s a fine career. You make beautiful, functional things to improve people’s lives.”
“Not really. I’m just trying to get enough money together to start college.”
“No music scholarship?”
“No. You see, I played the cello through junior high and my sophomore year. I was pretty good. But I also played football, and frankly, I was really good at football. My sophomore year, I got offered a full ride to college on a football scholarship, so I dropped orchestra.”
“I see,” said, but I didn’t. “So why aren’t you in college?”
“I tore my ACL my junior year. My football career was over. No football, no college.”
“I see,” I said, and I did.
“I shouldn’t have given up the cello.”
I wanted to say, “You’re damn right you shouldn’t have given up the cello,” but I didn’t.
He went on to lament the string of bad choices he had made in his young life, and I encouraged him to think of those mistakes as learning opportunities to make better choices in the future.
Then, as our plane landed and we prepared to go our separate ways, I said, “You know, you could take private lessons on the cello again. If you refreshed your skills, you could join a community orchestra. Many of them don’t even require an audition.”
He smiled and shook his head. “It’s too late,” he said, and turned away.
“It’s never too late,” I called out as he headed down the aisle.
I keep thinking about that young man. I keep thinking how a young man whose grandparents had such musical talent would surely have great musical blood in his veins. I keep thinking how his life might be different if he had stayed with orchestra instead of leaving it for football. How he could have had a full ride to college on an orchestra scholarship. How he could have enjoyed playing his cello at 96 instead of losing his ability to play football at 16.
I wonder why schools encourage young people to play dangerous sports that cause permanent injuries when those sports are simply not lifetime leisure activities. I wonder why schools don’t encourage young people to learn to play a musical instrument that will provide them a lifetime of healthy, active leisure.
And I wondered what we old community musicians ought to be doing to help children and teenagers make good lifetime leisure decisions: like joining band or orchestra and sticking with it.
Millie Gore Lancaster, 3/4/2016
Cross posted from www.ConsiderableOpinions.blogspot.com