Feb 01, 2015 My first band teacher, Harold Fink – 1914-2010
Practice makes perfect, and I am fortunate that I got comfortable with public speaking and public performance multiple times for years before ever stepping foot in the courtroom. I performed on trumpet for ten years with public school and college bands on stage, in Memorial Day parades, as a bugler one season at summer camp, improvising with a folk rock band, and, in high school and college, playing on the field and in the stands during football games. For many years before college, I performed magic for numerous children’s birthday parties. When already a trial lawyer, I joined my former law partner Jay Marks on our weekly Spanish language call-in radio show for the first two years of our law firm. Add that to many more broadcast appearances for television and radio, and that means my feeling as comfortable in the courtroom and anywhere else with audiences, as talking one-on-one with a visitor in my office.
Early on in elementary school, I looked forward to having my first opportunity to join the school band, in fourth grade. My choice of the trumpet seemed a natural, bolder than the other standard wind instrument choices of trombone, sax, clarinet and flute, and able to play all the notes that the drums could not.
I had no overarching goal in starting playing with music beyond fascination about learning how to play, my enjoyment of hearing Wolfman Jack playing Steve Miller and others, and perhaps from a realization that what I lacked in precision for visual art I could make up for in a performing art.
I could have let my first band teacher, Harold Fink, put a damper on that, but I refused to let that happen. He was anything but a stereotype of a flower-child music teacher. In fact, to be an elementary school band teacher, one has to put up with learning all the instruments to be able to teach them, starting from square one on an individual and group basis with dozens of new band students, and finding very basic, and thus often uninspiring, music to play.
Mr. Fink seemed all business and little fun. He drilled the basics into us, and tapped his conductor’s wand on the table so slowly as each of us individually played our first song the "Merry Widow Waltz" that I had little idea that the piece could give an audience any enjoyment.
As firm as he seemed, something told me Mr. Fink cared about his work and the students he taught. On the handful of occasions that I arrived at school having accidentally stuck my mouthpiece so tightly into my trumpet that I could not pull it out, without complaint nor lecture, Mr. Fink would retrieve his mouthpiece puller contraption and focus his full calm attention on gently removing the mouthpiece within a minute.
Mr. Fink thought enough of my abilities to have included me in a small ensemble for our winter concert just three months after I joined the band.
Insisting on meeting his own minimum performance standards, Mr. Fink declined to present a holiday concert the following year, feeling the band was not up to snuff for it.
Recently, for seemingly no particular reason, I Googled Mr. Fink to learn that he lived a very long time. He passed away nearly five years ago at the age of ninety-six, having given private music lessons right up to three weeks before.
Mr. Fink performed in Vaudeville and elsewhere. He said "I remember longing for [music] lessons when I was a kid. I want everyone to have a chance to fall in love with music." So I was right from the beginning. Beneath his usually unsmiling visage was someone who loved music, wanted to share the music, and cared.
How I would have liked to see a video of Mr. Fink on the vaudeville stage, as a counterpoint to the teacher who always had a thermos in hand during our lesson meetings near lunchtime. Etched in my memory, for instance, is where I sat as he chalked such generations-old acronym mnemonics on the board as "Fat boys eat apples during gym class" (to remember the flat scales); "Good deeds are ever bearing fruit constantly" (to remember sharp scales); FACE (for notes between the lines on the scale); and "Every good boy does fine" (for the notes on the lines of the scale.
Band teachers and art teachers as a whole probably do not get heralded in the same way as dedicated teachers of English, math and science. People need to learn the arts or other creativity to not be mere automatons in society. Yet, when public school budgets are deemed needing cutting, it seems that music and other arts program too often become casualties of budget cutting, more than reading, writing, and arithmetic.
As a trial lawyer, I have learned to relate and identify with clients, judges, jurors, opposing lawyers and witnesses in part by learning how to experience, comprehend, and feel circumstances from their perspective. The unsmiling visage of Mr. Fink — whom I only saw smile when receiving onstage our band’s gift of the then newfangled Kodak pocket instamatic camera — and so many others can be motivated by such factors as general dissatisfaction or discomfort with life’s circumstances, psychological or physical pain, wanting to be taken seriously, and habit.
Thanking Harold "Hal" Fink and my many other teachers who have cared about, encouraged, and inspired me in their own way to help me grow and advance in life.