Follow the trombones. After seeing “The Music Man” in theater (1962) with Robert Preston and 76 trombones, all I wanted to do was play music. My eagerness allowed me to start in band in 4th grade instead of 5th. “Anyone that interested in music should be here.” was the quote, more or less, Victor Anderson, Roland Band Director told my parents. Dad bought me an old silver trombone, too big and too heavy for this small guy. My arm was not long enough to reach the 7th position B. And my inability to breath through my nose made it hard to collect enough wind to push notes out the bell.
My dad gave me a 3/4 no-name electric guitar from this amateur radio wheelings and dealings. In 7th grade he gave me a Harmony electric which was easier to play. One of his radio buddies with the wild nickname Dingleplumber played country on that guitar and I was amazed at the sound that came out. So I started to practice.
Through high school I worked at Casey’s, not for a car like my buddies, but to get a Stratocaster, Precision Bass and Fender Quad Reverb amp. I would practice four to six hours a day, getting up before school. The Ames independent station KASI would play progressive rock in the evenings , hosted by what I thought was the coolest DJ, an ISU student. I started at Iowa State as a music major, and auditioned for my dream, playing in the ISU Jazz Band, beating out two players who had been in the band before me.
Anyone who practices four to six hours a day on anything will get good at it. Or they don’t know any better and should quit. I did get good at guitar. I concentrated on learning jazz theory and sight reading music. I had great teachers, Don Archer in Des Moines and the charismatic and wonderful man, the late Rich Beachler, who’s main job was an ISU graphic designer.
Stage fright was something I wasn’t able to practice away. I had trouble playing though any song without making mistakes. I worried of not being good enough. The more I learned and the better I got, the more I understood how good the really great players were. They drifted further away.
I wanted to quit Iowa State and go on the road with a band. Hit the Ramada Inn circuit and become a pro. My mom was terrified and my dad was rampant to get me to think otherwise. I wanted to play music. I didn’t want to have conflicts with my parents. At 19 I felt any decision would make or break the entire rest of my life.
Dad just wanted me to have a stable career. He wasn’t against music. In his travels for Motorola, he had seen plenty of bar bands at the hotels he stayed at. Back when live music was alive. He saw the lives of musicians as they grew older. At 19 I couldn’t seer that far.
I gave it. I would change my major from music to something else. My high school art teacher had urged me to go that direction. I was good at art. On both sides of my family were artists. Mom had an uncle in Copenhagen who was a wood sculptor. He worked for the Danish castle and he was poor. I had cousins on my dad’s side who were artists and poets, and they were older than me. California weird.
I liked art but never thought of it as a career. Becoming an accountant seemed scarier, so I thought I would check with me dad first to see what he thought and avoid another confrontation like I had with music.
To my surprise dad thought being an artist was a great idea. I thought he was nuts. But to dad, art meant commercial art. At Motorola they used commercial artists (the term for graphic design back then), so for dad, art meant commercial art. I applied to switch majors, presented my portfolio of drawings to Ron Fenimore, and advisor in Advertising Design at ISU. I took a drawing class with Lou Bro and calligraphy with Fenimore. I loved it. I was admitted into the program.
Working on art and graphic design seems easier. Certainly less stressful than music. I enjoyed it and cared about it. But I didn’t have the strong passion I had for it as I did music. It definitely was a better career choice, although I only worked as a graphic designer for a few years. One thing led into another.