George Frederick Handel and other misfits in Scottsbluff, NE

George Frederick Handel(23 February 1685 – 14 April 1759)

George Frederick Handel
(23 February 1685 – 14 April 1759)

In a year around 1957 a group of musicians/businessmen/educators –I don’t know who they were—held a contest for young musicians in Nebraska. They offered a prize that seemed to a junior high school kid in the millions of dollars. Kids from all over the state auditioned, and some lucky prodigy won those millions.

I should have known right then I was not cut out to be a performer. By that time I was taking organ instead of piano lessons, and they didn’t have facilities for organ playing. So I trooped over to the Longfellow School in Scottsbluff, NE, my home town, and plopped myself down at the piano in front of the judges and cranked out what was probably a just-short-of-brilliant reading of a transcription of the “Largo” from Handel’s opera Xerxes. It was the only piece I could play on both the organ and piano.

My performance probably did not matter to the judges. It was my total lack of showmanship and ease in front of the crowd. I dreaded the performance, and it showed. I played without even announcing the title of the work. Public performance is mainly torture for an introvert—especially one who has Medial temporal lobe epilepsy seizures on a daily basis and never quite knows when they will strike.

Since that day I have been disquieted by the music of George Frederick Handel. Do you blame me?

Today is George Frederick Handel’s 228th birth anniversary. OK, Georg Friedrich Händel, if you must. He was German, but England’s greatest composer until Ralph Vaughn Williams (or Edward Elgar, or some other great composer most of you have never heard of—might even put Arthur Sullivan in that rarefied atmosphere). His music is, of course, Italian.

I thought I might have a chance to win the competition because a couple of years before I had had some success at such a venture. My best friend Rusty Fuller heard about the “Junior Star Parade” (not the same contest) and its first prize of three silver dollars and decided he’d win.

Rusty was a short wiry energetic kid with red hair and freckles, the baby of a family of four boys, not the serious middle child in the Preacher’s family (they lived across the street from our church, but he never had to go to church anywhere!). He was probably the first “love of my life.” He couldn’t sing and knew nothing about music, but he bribed me with promise of one of the silver dollars when we won if I’d teach him a song. So on a Saturday morning at the Midwest Movie Theater, we got on the stage and he cut-up and carried on and acted the natural performer and stole the show (now and then joining me on the chorus) as I sang “This Ole House.” Sometimes I think I’ve won one of the three silver dollars in every relationship I’ve had since then.

There you have it. Stuart Hamblen and George Frederick Handel forever indelibly joined in a marriage in my mind that makes me a bit squeamish every time I hear either of their names. Fortunately, Hamblen never played any other part in my life, and Handel wrote no solo organ music I was obliged to study earning a Bachelor of Music in organ; I never had to contend with either of them again.

Funny thing, though. Here in my waning years I don’t regret either of those unpleasant experiences. What I do regret is that my self-image was so distorted that I didn’t learn from either of them that perhaps I ought to be learning to write short stories or becoming a boring scholar or computer scientist (to make a zillion dollars) or . . . well, almost anything other than torturing myself with the 60-year dream that someday I will be a great performer. Introverts of the world, unite!

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