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    Posted December 27, 2013 by
    DGMacDonald
    Location
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    Assignment
    Assignment
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    The written word: Your personal essays

    More from DGMacDonald

    Just making excuses

     

    I am old and retired now, but I used to have youthful ambitions of fame. I went through several youthful periods of ambition and effort. I dreamed of earning a living as either a writer or a jazz guitarist. In reality, though, I would have only graded as a B+ in both, not at the A+ level necessary to be paid to do either. Instead, I worked for decades as a civil servant.


    I now easily try to blame my inertia as a creative writer on the type of work I did in a governmental agency. As a State of Wisconsin Probation and Parole Agent and a supervisor of agents, I would write and write on pads of paper until computers became available, then I would type and type instead. Over the years, I just became burned out on words, be they written or spoken, especially after work.

    Instead of what I would have wanted to write on the job, I wrote Pre-sentence Investigations for the courts, Chronological Logs on offenders and personnel evaluations of my agents I supervised.

     

    I am not so sure what I can conveniently blame my downfall on as a guitarist. I started taking lessons in 1959, at the age of nine. My first teacher was a smiling, likable man who played guitar on his big Gibson acoustic. I made progress for a couple of years, but my father wanted more. That was when he met George Pritchett.

    Even then, George was known as a very gifted and great jazz guitarist in Milwaukee. My father learned that George even taught children as well as adults how to read the language of music notes on paper and how to play them on the guitar. In the early 60s, George used to give lessons at the Layton Conservatory of Music, once located near Layton Blvd. and Greenfield Ave. Several years later, however, as Joni Mitchell once wrote, "they tore down paradise and put up a parking lot."

     

    George Pritchett played guitar on his electric Gibson arch top. Starting when I was 11 years of age, I took weekly lessons from George for a few years. I had the mild misfortune, however, of having my lessons with him early every Saturday morning, after a Friday night of his raucous socializing and performing. Those who knew George before he died in 1987 I hope may smile, as I now do, and understand the reasons for my mild misfortune.

     

    In addition to weekly lessons, George was also the conductor of our guitar band that consisted of about 20 guitar students between about 10 and 15 years of age. There were, at the time, 4-part guitar band arrangements written. We would meet at the conservatory to practice once every week.

    Every year, the guitar band would compete, as we all also did as individuals, at the annual Wisconsin Accordion and Guitar Festival held at the old Schroeder Hotel downtown that is now called the Hilton Hotel. Even though this event was a nerve-wracking day performing for judges and competing for trophies, I tried to have fun every year. I recall George, dressed to the nines, leading our guitar band during the festivals. One year, when I performed individually at the festival when I was about 13, he even loaned me his prized Gibson arch top to play.

    Milwaukee jazz fans were extremely fortunate in the 60's, 70's and part of the 80's to be able to listen to George play guitar. He toured nationally for a while with the Buddy Rich Band, but he mainly performed and taught guitar in Milwaukee. He also recorded two albums of solo jazz guitar.

    George’s jazz guitar skills truly amazed aficionados and novice listeners alike. Even though he would sometimes play a slow ballad, he more often created a stunning, seemingly limit-setting crescendo of string sounds. He played genius runs of improvised notes and chords, blending them all together, always in perfect time.

     

    George Pritchett set high standards for his students and if I did not fully prepare for lessons by daily practice during the week, he could become a very large, loudly growling taskmaster. He was also, however, often reassuring when the music seemed to get too difficult for me to play.

     

    I have to admit that over the years, when my too often half-hearted attempts to become the required A+ level of writer or guitarist failed, I would just make excuses, give up and stop creating for periods. I guess I just dreamed to find some kind of magical excellence the next time I would pick up the pen or guitar.

     

    Of course, in real life, learning creative skills to attain a high level of craft only arrives after a long, concerted period of study and practice. Only then will you be able to discover your innate talents. Only then, if you are most rarely fortunate, will you be able to create and succeed at the highest level.

     

    I still try to write and play guitar whenever the mood moves me. I now have to honestly grade myself, however, as only a B in both. Yet even though I may be old and retired now, I still have youthful ambitions of fame.

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