Posted by: Brad Nixon | June 15, 2014

Stand By Me

Many human pursuits require massive amounts of STUFF. A few that come to mind without more than a moment of consideration are skiing, scuba diving, golf, car racing and photography. Devotees of these activities constantly seek to acquire the latest, greatest new skis, bindings, boots, jackets, weight belts, drivers, putters, balls (my GOD, the packs of golf balls one sends into the bush!), wrenches, wheels, tires, spark plugs, lenses, filters and … well, it’s wearying to consider how much STUFF one needs. The world economy may, in fact, not hinge upon energy, hunger or technology but by the acquisition of STUFF. Fans of tai chi, meditation and naked cliff diving may scoff all they like at the obsessive acquisitiveness of those who pursue these activities, but if you’ve ever swung a club or aspired to snap a serious photo, you have heard the call: “If only I had those new Cabezaloco bindings, I’d’ve nailed those moguls on the black diamond slope,” etc.

Musicians are some of the world’s fussiest and most demanding consumers of STUFF. First of all, of course, there’s the instrument. Unless a stringed instrument player owns a Stradivarius, Amati or the near-equivalent, well, they just don’t really HAVE IT, do they? The same is true for every horn player, pianist, flutist and percussionist on the stage: there’s a hierarchy of absolutely must-have instruments, and only a few (backed by wealthy adorers) can play the very best. It doesn’t stop there. Bows, mutes, reeds (hand-crafted from ancient grasses that grow only in certain remote corners of the Mekong Delta), rosin (harvested from certain rees growing on the shore of the Aegean Sea) … well, it’s a bit much.

And then there are guitars. Where doth one start? A guitar is a relatively simple machine, descended from an ancient lineage of plucked-string instruments. But the style of body construction, amplification and acoustics and aesthetic enhancements varies widely. There are guitars designed for every type of music one can imagine, and they’re aggressively marketed to guitar players and aspiring guitarists. I, myself, must know at least a hundred guitar players, and not a single one who owns only one guitar. Two (electric and acoustic) is the minimum price of admission. I’m at what I consider the low end of the GUITAR STUFF scale: I own four, one of them a bass. I personally know a man who owns more than a hundred guitars. I’ve written before about Guitar Obsession, HERE.

None of these pieces of musical STUFF is my subject today. There’s one item that every bassonist, cellist, flutist, vocalist and conductor on the stage requires to pursue their craft: a music stand.

A few musicians don’t need music stands. Pianists, for example. The clever people at Steinway, Bosendorfer, Baldwin and their peers have figured out that if they can sell a piece of musical furniture for $50,000 or more, they can include a means to prop up sheet music in front of the pianist. Marching band musicians have clever “lyres” that attach to their instruments and hold their music in front of them while they’re marching, but, trust me, when they show up at the band room for rehearsal, their music is on stands.

Music stands, in fact, are something one sees a lot of if one watches an orchestra perform. You see the conductor showing off (with his back to you) and you see the orchestra players. Depending on your seats, you may see more music stands than musicians (the people in the expensive seats down front are all music standophiles, since that’s about all they see).

I have a music stand. I’ve had it since I started playing trumpet in 5th grade. I still use it. here it is:

Hamilton stand - The Victoria

This stand was produced by Hamilton Stands, and is still in production, with a few small differences in the details, called the KB400. You’ll see virtually identical stands on sale in your local music store. As they say on that page, “In continuous production since 1940.”

That phrase rings true, because, you see, I’m not the first owner of that stand. That distinction belongs to my dad. It was already in the house when I took up the trumpet (also previously his). He guesses his parents got it for him when he started playing trumpet in elementary grades, at the two-room Genntown School. That would have been right around 1940, in fact. The company’s website provides a brief history of their accomplishments since being founded in Hamilton, Ohio (not far from the ol’ home town) in 1883.

It’s worth noting that Dad continued to play trumpet when he went on to high school (in the same building I attended — small towns!). He was quarterback on the football team, but in those days of less specialization, he ALSO marched in the band at halftime, wearing his football gear. Imagine such a thing today. Already in my day, being on the football team meant I sat out marching band season.

My four siblings all certainly used this stand as they practiced, respectively, in descending age: trombone, saxophone, trumpet, trumpet (two of them practiced hard, and are now professional musicians, though one is a pianist, so she needed no stand for that; everyone still plays). It held music for impromptu performances for grandparents and then held music for my three brothers and I as we picked up guitars. It almost certainly went along to more than a few high-decibel band rehearsals when I switched to electric bass and pretended to play rock ‘n roll, and again when I moved on to playing upright bass and the blues.

A lot of music. Below, a photo of all of us playing for our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Yes, that’s a classic Hamilton stand, but not mine. It’s my sister’s, 60 years after the first “THE VICTORIA” rolled off the line.

scan0046 the siblings

My stand is closing in on its 75th year of service. It has some rust in spots, and it’s lost one of it’s original “music retainers” (wires that swing up to hold music against the stand). It’s also etched with its product name, bestowed before the world gave products names like “KB400;” it’s called “THE VICTORIA.” Nice. The collapsible tripod legs still fold up and the stem still moves up and down and locks in place to adjust the height.

Today, I play the guitar I’ve always dreamed of owning, and I’ve shaken off that acquisitive lust for another instrument. I could, I suppose, get a new, spiffier stand to go along with it.

Not on your life. Play on! Thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

© Copyright 2014 Brad Nixon. No photos may be used without express permission.

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Responses

  1. A beautiful homage to your dad, music,
    “The Victoria”–and “stuff”. 🙂
    Write on– I always enjoy your thoughts and perceptions on life!

    Like

  2. For our Army Bands, we generally have two kinds of music stands. The foldable one as you describe is the one that is mandatory to have, required by Army regulations and Tables of Organization, while the heavier duty non-folding stand is optional, authorized on the Common Table of Allowances. Shows you how important the little folding stand is to people that might travel the globe to play music.

    Like


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