Su Lum: Slumming

The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

When I was in elementary school in Boonton, N.J., Miss Feagans – a cheerful lady of indeterminate age – came to class once a week to give us singing lessons. We all had little booklets with the words and notes, Miss Feagans would blow on her pitch pipe to get us started on the right note, and we’d sing songs such as “The red fox ran away, he ran far, far away; he had no telephone, had no telephone, and he was far from home.”

Don’t ask what buried computer-memory file I found that song in.

In addition to the elementary school, Miss Feagans taught the high school girls chorus, the boys chorus and the Glee Club – reserved for the boys and girls with the best voices – plus conducting and organizing all their concerts. We learned to read music and sing in parts and were quite good for a small school system; there were only 300 students in the high school.

When I was about 9, Harold Warford came to town and blew the lid off the music scene. At a general assembly, he stood before us and demonstrated every musical instrument in his arsenal: violin, cello, bass fiddle, viola, clarinet, trombone, drums, French and English horn, trumpet, bassoon, flute, tuba, harp, triangle, piccolo – the whole works.

The idea was that each kid in the entire school system could pick an instrument and would be given that instrument and small, free class lessons with others of their ilk, with the best moving on to the elementary and high school orchestras and the 50-piece uniformed marching band complete with baton twirlers and drum majorettes.

How Mr. Warford managed to be proficient on all those instruments as well as having the patience and endurance to teach them to youngsters between the charming ages of 8 and 18 is, in retrospect, unfathomable.

That the Boonton school system, which was as boring as watching grass grow, had the foresight to hire him and institute the program was nothing short of astounding.

I picked the violin, I think because I was smart enough not to want to lug around a heavy instrument. My older sister picked the cello (proving my point) and played the glockenspiel in the band.

By then I had doodled around on the piano with my sister’s lesson books, learned how to read music and could sing the alto line in the chorus, but the violin wasn’t ultimately my cup of tea.

My parents signed me up for summer music school, where I distinguished myself by jumping out of the first-floor window when the teacher’s back was turned.

One evening, practicing for an upcoming school orchestra concert, my father said, “My God, Su, what’s with that terrible screeching?” I explained that I was practicing when to draw the bow up and down but, at the actual concert, I wouldn’t actually play a note – my version of lip-syncing on the violin. After six years, I’d reached the end of my violin strings and decided to stick with singing and piano.

Our school system didn’t have any money, so I don’t know how they managed to pay for the instruments and uniforms, and they didn’t quite have 76 trombones in the band, but Harold Warford sure was our very own Harold Hill.

Su Lum is a longtime local with few tolerable memories of those days. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at