When I attended the University of Toledo I took 4 semesters of music theory. It’s a world-renowned musical arts university, eclipsing even that of the famed Cincinnati Arts College. As part of the curriculum, I was required to attend several lectures by prominent composers and music composition experts. I considered opting out for religious reasons, as the university adopted a policy that stipulated that music theory was just a theory, like evolution, and if you wanted to pretend it wasn’t a real thing, no one would stop you. Even percussionists were allowed to invoke the rule but due to their chronic lateness, we couldn’t be sure they ever heard about the exemption.
Before each outing, the professor would always look at the students sitting in front of him and insist that we take notes. It was a refrain we heard as often as “good morning.” I knew he was going to be a pain in the ass the first time I heard him speak, right after he told us that he started learning music on the clarinet. Reed instruments are the byproduct of devilish design – a fact well-known in music circles but seldom expressed so as to not harm the delicate feelings of those unlucky enough to have been cursed with reed instrument afflictions.
In my last semester of music theory, I was lucky enough to get an invitation to Fred Winnebago’s solo performance at the Nancy Drew Arts Project. Fred had just had his 6th major symphony recorded and was doing musical presentations around the country. Interestingly, his prosthetic leg didn’t slow him down very much.
Before the performance, Fred Winnebago took 30 minutes to lecture the audience about his musical methods. My professor had already done the introduction and once again reminded us to “Take notes!”
As the curtain opened, Fred sat at an ornate piano. The lights dimmed. As Fred’s fingers began to press the ivories, no sound emerged. Fred seemed confused and removed his hands from the keyboard. After a moment, he once again dropped his fingers lightly to the keys and began to move his fingertips over them. No sound whatsoever.
The professor stepped out from backstage, tentatively, holding a microphone up so that he could speak.
“It seems as if we are having technical difficulties,” the music professor began.
“Yes, you shouldn’t have told us to take notes – now there aren’t any left to play,” someone shouted from the back.
After a long, loud collective groan of mock disgust from the audience, we broke out in applause.
Even the professor, who now seemed uninterested in anyone taking more notes.