Friday, April 10, 2009

Mike Sylwester Remembers the Hardt Family

Columbia Avenue House 11 was occupied by the family of Werner Hardt. He taught secondary education at the college and served as an assistant coach of several athletic teams. He also worked as a referee at football games played by the University of Nebraska's Cornhusker football team in Lincoln.

I remember that Mrs. Hardt was very pretty, and she cooked delicious pie out of rubarbs that she grew in their back yard. I was surprised to learn later that my father dated her in college. She and my own mother have the same name: Ruth. Hmm.

The oldest child, Jim, was one of my very best friends. He didn’t have any brothers, so I was like his brother, and he liked to hang around my family. He had a couple of sisters, both very pretty – they looked like their mother.

Jim and I practiced sports a lot together. We played catch, we went swimming, we did high-jumping, and so forth. Later, we both were on wrestling teams together, and we were wrestling partners. We hung around together a lot.

James Hardt, eighth-grade student at St John Elementary School in Seward, Nebraska

When we were in elementary school, we looked quite similar, as if we really were brothers. Of course, most of us boys wore our hair in crew-cuts, so our hair always looked the same. Jim was a touch bigger than me.

At the end of third (fourth?) grade, most of the students were encouraged to sign up to play in the band, beginning in the following year. Each student was examined by a "commission" that included Mr. Marino and Mr. Peter, and they recommended an instrument to each student, based on the student's body type. Jim and I were examined in turn by this commission, which recommended to both of us that we play the trombone. So it was recommended, and so it was done, and so Jim and I bought trombones and received them during the summer.

When school began again in the fall, Jim and I sat next to each other in the band's "trombone section" (i.e. Jim and I). After a few practices, our conductor Mr. Peter re-arranged the band members, and Jim was placed at the end of the row, closest to the conductor, and I sat in the next seat, further from the conductor. In time, I came to understand that Jim was the "first trombone" and I was the "second trombone."

One possible factor in this arrangement was that Jim practiced quite a bit more than I did. When he filled in his practice card, showing that he had practiced seven hours at home during the week, then that meant that he actually did practice the seven hours. When I filled in my practice card, it was more notional. I included the time, for example, that I sat with my trombone in my hands and watched television and played just during the commercials. I also included the time I spent cleaning the spit out of my trombone and oiling the slide, which were tasks that I enjoyed spending lots of time on.>/p>

I was born with my mother's genes for practicing musical instruments. When she was a child, she had the same attitude about practicing that I did. On one hand, this inheritance was unfortunate, because I never have mastered a musical instrument during my now long life, but on the other hand, this inheritance was fortunate because my mother always signed my practice card, no matter how outrageously false it was. (Jim probably inherited musical genes and practice discipline from Ruth Hardt. So, don't blame me. My Dad decided which Ruth to marry.)

One big advantage of playing the trombone is that it is relatively easy to copy the adjacent trombone player. Instead of looking at the notes when we played, I paid more attention, out of the corner of my eye, to how Jim was moving the trombone slide, and I did the same.

After a year playing in the band, we graduated to the school orchestra, which had more than two trombones. Now I found myself sitting away from Jim, because some other student played the trombone better than me but worse than Jim. Although I was able to copy my slide movements from this other guy, I had become accustomed to copying from Jim. Also, I learned that our music was more complicated, and the notes were different for the first trombone, second trombone and even third trombone. In these cases, though, I ignored the notes on the sheet music and continued to just copy the movements of the adjacent trombone player.

Jim Hardt and Mike Sylwester pictured as trombonists and Debbie McGrew pictured as a saxophonist in the school orchestra in the 1965-1966 yearbook of St John Elementary School in Seward, Nebraska.


Since I wrote the above, I have been given some photographs from our eighth-grade yearbook. The above image is taken from the yearbook photograph of our school orchestra. I see here that I was second trombonist, at least for a while. From right to left in the trombone section is Jim Hardt, Mike Sylwester and some doofus from a lower class. I think that by the end of the year, however, the doofus was sitting in the second chair and I was sitting in the third.

Notice also that Jim and the doofus are wearing neckties, but I'm not. That's an indication of our relative seriousness about the orchestra.

The saxophonist in the front is Debbie McGrew. She was cute! I was in a good position to watch her in the orchestra, especially since I wasn't watching the sheet music.

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