Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Day The Music Died

I got some sad news last night. 
Aunt Lynne sent me a link to an Ingersoll Times obituary with the caption "Ken -- is this someone from your past?"
It is. She was.
Claire Martineau, née Panter, was my music teacher in my OAC year at Ingersoll District Collegiate Institute. Only one year. More's the pity.

I had crushes on practically everyone in high school, but never a teacher. Until her.

Part of my crush on Miss Panter stemmed from the minuscule eight year age difference (and she seemed younger than that). Part of it came from her telling me to call her Claire when nobody else was around. And she was undoubtedly, as the obituary states, an old soul: caring and compassionate.

But the biggest reason for that crush was musical. Claire Martineau was a wonderful teacher, competent (at least) on every instrument in the band (virtuosic on clarinet), not to mention being a phenomenal guitarist and damn fine piano player. 

Musicians will understand this: there's a bond that forms very quickly when you play together. At its deepest -- if you like the person you're playing with and you like the music you're playing -- it approaches telepathy. It felt that way, anyway, with Miss Panter on guitar and me playing piano. It's a jam session I've never forgotten: we moved seamlessly from Beatles tunes to my own compositions...which she managed to play backup on despite never having heard before. At one point, at the end of a chorus to a song I'd written, I dropped out and let her vamp for a bit. She improvised a bridge that was pure genius and then brought the verse back in a different key: my turn to anticipate, and somehow I knew what she was doing as she did it. 

Exhilarating doesn't even begin to describe it. Playing music like that is almost sexual. 

I played baritone in high school band. If you haven't heard of a baritone, it's basically a smaller (and thus higher-pitched) tuba, and outside of high schools and British brass bands it's almost unheard of. 

This is a very early example of me backing myself into a corner: I got quite proficient on the baritone. Nowhere near as good on my instrument as my friend Craig was on his -- he's a professional trumpeter now, and as far as I was concerned he was then, too. But I wasn't bad: I was certainly good enough to continue on to university for music. Except neither the baritone nor its close cousin the euphonium were recognized instruments. I would have had to start all over on trombone or French horn, and while I was a fair musician, I certainly couldn't pick up anything and be any good at it. 

Miss Panter called for volunteers to go play at a public school (Zorra Highland, as I recall). Only two people stepped forward: Audrey Graham (trumpet) and myself.  Picture 'When The Saints Go Marching In' as a duet between Audrey and I, belted out while marching all over the gym with Miss Panter playing spoons behind us. So much fun.  

The band at IDCI in 1989-90 was the ugly stepsister to the orchestra. The head of the music department at the time didn't seem to consider you a real musician if you didn't play a stringed instrument. I'm very glad to hear there's a jazz band and a guitar ensemble at IDCI now thanks to Claire Martineau. I have little doubt the entire music department is substantially better from having her head it. 

Fifty-two is much too young to die. And the manner of her death -- she had beat leukemia and elected a stem cell treatment to prevent or forestall its return, only to die of graft vs. host disease. Words fail me. 

Mrs. Martineau -- Miss Panter -- I can't even begin to imagine the music you're playing now. Some day I hope we can repeat that jam session and improve on it.

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