Johnny Mayer, Blues Musician

Johnny Mayer, Photo by Fred Stein

Swatting Flies!

By Johnny Mayer

"A guitar is good for just one thing... swatting flies." That's what Frank Orlando, my junior high school orchestra teacher told me when I said I played the guitar.

Then I got out my violin and played a etude or two for him. I must have passed the audition because before long I found myself deep in rehearsels under Mr. Orlando's watchful baton.

We rehearsed .. he yelled at us in Italian which we didn't understand. A person walking by in the hall might have thought we were the Milwaukee Sympohonic Orchestra the way we conducted ourselves as young ladies and gentlemen. The classroom was so quiet during rehearsel that you could have heard a pin drop.

Well, not quite. I made a little noise here and there as I fidgeted in my seat between passionate outbursts by Mr. Orlando on my budding violin skills. And each time, Mr. Orlando finished his comments with "and when are you going to give up that guitar of yours, don't you know a guitar is good for just one thing... swatting flies."

Afterall, third chair (out of four) in the second violin section of the John Marshall Junior High orchestra carries major responsibilies. Chief among them was to produce musicians for the senior high school orchestra, Mr. Orlando's pride and joy and the envy of every school in Milwaukee (or so he said).

Then one day came the book showdown. Little did I know on my way to school that morning I was walking into a scene from "The Shootout at the OK Corrall." We sat, we played, he yelled at me and I was REALLY angry since I had actually practiced over the weekend and thought he would notice the difference."

He asked me to play my part for the class, said I played it all wrong and reminded me that this was an orchestra ... not a rock band ... besides, didn't I know a guitar was good for just one thing ... swatting flies.

That did it for me... I just sat their and fumed, holding my violin and wishing I was somewhere else ... when out of the corner of my eye, I saw it ... a fly had landed on the chair next to me. I took my violin off my chin, grabbed the neck with my right hand ... and POW! right in the kisser, I smacked that fly into kingdom come with my violin.

The class was stunned by the "thoing" of the breaking violin and Mr. Orlando's eyes almost popped out of his head. Everyone's head turned so fast to see what happened and Mr. Orlando started to scream at me, but for once the words failed him... Finally, he managed to ask what happened.

I looked at him, the broken violin in my hand, the chair and said, "Ah, I thought I saw a fly on the chair next to me and, well, you know..."

Five minutes later, I found myself in the principal's office and in BIG trouble. As you can imagine, my career in the junior high orchestra came to and end with the broken violin. And so did my chances of making the senior orchestra.

I didn't speak with Mr. Orlando for a year, and then one day he stopped me in the hall and said, "Come here I want to talk with you." Oh, oh I thought to myself, here it comes... It seemed Mr. Orlando needed a string bass player for the senior high orchestra and was ready to bury the hatchet, or in this case the broken violin.

We sat down in his office and Mr. Orlando made me an offer that I couldn't refuse, to keep my guitar at school, the use of my own practice room anytime I wanted. He also gave me a bass to take home to practice the parts and made me guitar player at all the school plays and talent shows.

And what about the broken violin? That's one topic Mr. Orlando never brought up again and I wasn't about to remind him.

The violin sat in in a closet at my mother's house for thirty years until one day, my children asked, "What's this broken violin doing in grandma's closet?" When I told them the story they didn't believe me until grandma told them it was a true story.

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