When I was 14, I was a dweeby nerd, too tall for my weight and too uncoordinated to even play water boy. I had horrible acne and greasy hair. But one day my dad brought home an old, cheap guitar someone had left in his locker years earlier. By the time I got it, it had a cracked front and was missing two tuning machines and all but one string. But I scoured the town for parts, repaired and restrung it, and slowly and awkwardly taught myself how to play. After two years of practicing (and eventually saving up paper route money for a better guitar), I got something I'd never had: an identity I liked. I was a guitar player. A rocker. I bought an army-surplus shirt and grew my hair longer and affected that Clash stance. I developed confidence and swagger, and just a little bit of a me that I kinda liked.
Barbara Aslakson (St. Louis Park)
Serendipity played a part in my getting back into playing an instrument. I was teaching a career development class in 1990, and asked my group to take 15 seconds to write down the 10 things they wished they had done or could do. Someone yelled out that I should do it, too. I surprised myself by writing, "play an instrument in a group again." Never owned the French horn I played in school and college. Neck problems forbid me from trying that again. I came home from work and saw that the community education bulletin from St. Louis Park had an adult recorder class in it. Since there was a recorder in the piano bench, I showed up. The rest is history. I now play in a group and belong to the Twin Cities Recorder Guild. Playing in a group is now my fun in retirement.
Steve West (Minneapolis)
When I was about 12 years old, my sister's brother-in-law sold me his electric guitar. I spent hours teaching myself how to play it. I was so bad at first that my family banished me from the house, and I would sit in the hayloft in the barn and play to the animals we had running around the farm – chickens, dogs, sheep and baby pigs who were small enough to get under the boards. (They used to lay on my legs as I sang to them. The first song I learned was "Love is All Around" by the Troggs. The pigs really liked that one.) I got good enough to play with some friends, so we started a band that played school dances, summer festivals and other events. Playing music is what kept me from going totally insane growing up in a small town in Wisconsin.
Darlys Nelson (Fridley)
I started playing the trumpet the summer before seventh grade. I took lessons from Mr. Ralph Mendenhall every Saturday, and took the bus and street car to get to his Bloomington home from Robbinsdale. His brother, Bob Mendenhall, was my band director, and band was the reason I continued my education after high school. I graduated from the University of Minnesota and became a teacher. My five children all enjoyed band and orchestra, playing in GTCYS (Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony). Three are music teachers, helping to encourage students in middle and high school. I now have 17 grandchildren (including grandson Spencer in the photo), and 13 of the oldest are enjoying playing music, too. What fun to see what has happened just because I started playing the trumpet 60 years ago!!
Kathryn Hatlestad (Maplewood)
My first musical instrument was a clarinet that my mother had played since she was in junior high school. It replaced her first, a metal clarinet, which was melted down as part of the war effort during World War II.
In junior high, I learned to play baritone sax. I had the choice of two instruments. One was bright and shiny, and sounded fine, like the good student instrument it was. The other was dented and green, in a battered case with no handle. However, it was a professional quality instrument. I made a handle for the case, and played that old sax in jazz band. I loved the sound of it.
Jeff Horwich (St. Paul)
I would nominate my Holton C-melody saxophone, a silver relic from 1924. It doesn't get played frequently, but something about that particular horn (and the musty case it lives in) sums up my childhood, my eccentric tastes and reasons I love music. Opening the case and getting a whiff calls up one of my favorite high-school hang-outs: a dusty-museum-of-a-used-instrument shop on pawn-shop row in Missoula, Montana. Despite the name, "Stringed Instrument Division," the shop was where I tried out accordions, saxes, bagpipe chanters, and any other instrument you might imagine. It opened my ears to the variety of sounds I could try, and the C-melody sax is one of the treasures that absorbed my high school savings. These saxes are obscure – midway between a tenor and an alto, they are rarely played in public and no longer made. And that's why I love it. It represents musical history, and the promise of old and odd things being made useful again. After a recent tune-up (which cost as much as I paid for it 15 years ago: $300) it shines brightly and plays with a classic, early jazz tone. Taking a chance on an odd saxophone led me into a lifetime so far of collecting lovable musical oddities, from a tenor guitar to a resonator ukulele to an Armenian duduk.
Stephen Berg (Champlin)
My violin was extremely important to me. I started playing in fourth grade because I had visions of playing in the Minnesota Orchestra. Through learning the violin, I learned theory, how to read music, key signatures, and gained a love of classical music that had been nurtured at an early age by my mother. Through my involvement in orchestra, and particularly because of Ms. Blomgren, my orchestra teacher in ninth grade, I developed a love of music that has moved me on to many other instruments and a part-time career in performing original music. Because of the violin, I made an easy transition to guitar, then bass, then drums, and singing. If I hadn't played the violin, I don't think I would have learned to play the guitar, which is now my main instrument.
Linda DeRoode (Minnetonka)
I am blessed to own two cellos. My first instrument, which I keep for sentimental reasons, was given to me as a confirmation present from my parents when I was 14. The school instrument that I was playing was unfortunately not so good, so my parents purchased me my life-changing instrument. I played this cello (named "Suzi") for 23 years until I purchased my current cello six years ago. "CeeCee" was an upgrade. I just told my mom and dad the other day that having me play the cello was the best thing that they could have ever done for me. Playing the cello has become part of my very soul, my very being. I am truly blessed to have music in my life!
Play it Forward: Classical MPR's Musical Instrument Drive is made possible in part by the
Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund
Created and executed in partnership with the Minnesota Music Educators Association, with assistance from Vega Productions.