Debbie Reynolds and My Teenage Years

Debbie Reynolds singing at Irvine Ranch in 1955

Debbie Reynolds singing at Irvine Ranch in 1955

In the Burbank Youth Symphony Orchestra, Debbie Reynolds sat behind me in the French horn section. She was not yet a movie star, but shortly won a screening at Warner Bros. because she was queen at the “Burbank On Parade” Show. She and I also sat in the orchestra pit doing musicals for the Burbank Light Opera.

One day Meredith Wilson came to the Orchestra and looked at my flute and told me that playing an open tone flute was good for me because it kept my fingers in the right position. If you remember, he wrote “The Music Man” and was piccolo in the New York Philharmonic. He wrote the book “There I Stood With My Piccolo”. Many years later I heard someone clapping loudly at recital I played at UCLA. Much to my surprise it was Meredith Wilson, who had retired, and lived near the campus. My music schooling was all private because there were no music programs in the Burbank school system; although it was the 2nd best academic system in the state of California next to Beverly Hills. In high school I was studying engineering and was even interviewed to go to Cal Tech. because of my work in chemistry.

The best jobs for a musician were in the movie studios. The pay was good and the hours were far less than a symphony job. My dad’s friend, Harold Brown, bassist at Universal Studios, spent the summers at Catalina Island and flew back occasionally for a recording session, (needless, to say, this appealed to me).

Most musicians wanted to play in the studios and they usually used the LA Philharmonic as a stepping-stone to the studios. This angered Alfred Wallenstein, the music director. There were some devoted players that put classical orchestral music above the commercial film and TV work. Before the days of year-long symphony contracts, musicians in the Philharmonic did recording work as well as concerts. In those days the season for the orchestra was about 40 weeks. I always wanted to be a super sight-reader and at times I carried it to an extreme. I told one my rather musically serious violin colleagues that if were a good enough  sight-reader, I would never have to practice or learn any piece. I pushed the wrong button and got a long lecture about my bad attitude.

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