"A guitar is good for just one thing... swatting flies." That's what
Frank Orlando, my junior high school orchestra teacher told me when I said I
played the guitar.
Then I got out my violin and played a etude or two for him. I must
have passed the audition because before long I found myself deep
in rehearsels under Mr. Orlando's watchful baton.
We rehearsed .. he yelled at us in Italian which we didn't understand. A
person walking by in the hall might have thought we were the Milwaukee Sympohonic
Orchestra the way we conducted ourselves as young ladies and gentlemen.
The classroom was so quiet during rehearsel that you could have heard a
Well, not quite. I made a little noise here and there as I fidgeted
in my seat between passionate outbursts by Mr. Orlando on my budding violin
skills. And each time, Mr. Orlando finished his comments with "and when
are you going to give up that guitar of yours, don't you know a guitar
is good for just one thing... swatting flies."
Afterall, third chair (out of four) in the second violin section of
the John Marshall Junior High orchestra carries major responsibilies.
Chief among them was to produce musicians for the senior high school orchestra,
Mr. Orlando's pride and joy and the envy of every school in Milwaukee (or
so he said).
Then one day came the book showdown. Little did I know on my way to
school that morning I was walking into a scene from "The Shootout at
the OK Corrall." We sat, we played, he yelled at me and I was REALLY
angry since I had actually practiced over the weekend and thought he would
notice the difference."
He asked me to play my part for the class, said I played it all wrong
and reminded me that this was an orchestra ... not a rock band ... besides,
didn't I know a guitar was good for just one thing ... swatting flies.
That did it for me... I just sat their and fumed, holding my violin
and wishing I was somewhere else ... when out of the corner of my eye,
I saw it ... a fly had landed on the chair next to me. I took my violin
off my chin, grabbed the neck with my right hand ... and POW! right in
the kisser, I smacked that fly into kingdom come with my violin.
The class was stunned by the "thoing" of the breaking violin and Mr.
Orlando's eyes almost popped out of his head. Everyone's head turned so
fast to see what happened and Mr. Orlando started to scream at me, but
for once the words failed him... Finally, he managed to ask what happened.
I looked at him, the broken violin in my hand, the chair and said, "Ah,
I thought I saw a fly on the chair next to me and, well, you know..."
Five minutes later, I found myself in the principal's office and in
BIG trouble. As you can imagine, my career in the junior high orchestra
came to and end with the broken violin. And so did my chances of making
the senior orchestra.
I didn't speak with Mr. Orlando for a year, and then one day he
stopped me in the hall and said, "Come here I want to talk with you."
Oh, oh I thought to myself, here it comes... It seemed Mr. Orlando
needed a string bass player for the senior high orchestra and was
ready to bury the hatchet, or in this case the broken violin.
We sat down in his office and Mr. Orlando made me an offer that I couldn't
refuse, to keep my guitar at school, the use of my own practice room anytime
I wanted. He also gave me a bass to take home to practice the parts and made me
guitar player at all the school plays and talent shows.
And what about the broken violin? That's one topic Mr. Orlando never
brought up again and I wasn't about to remind him.
The violin sat in in a closet at my mother's house for thirty years
until one day, my children asked, "What's this broken violin doing in
grandma's closet?" When I told them the story they didn't believe me
until grandma told them it was a true story.
By Johnny Mayer.