La Forza del Destino

Teacher and student together again

Mike's secretary Kathy called: A man was trying to get in touch with him, a former student named Bobby Civiletti. Should she give Mr. Civiletti his email address? Yes, Mike said.

I'm Bob Civiletti. Are you the Mike Savits who was my music teacher at Behar Junior High School forty years ago in New York? Do you remember me? My wife and I will be in Boca Raton next week. Can we meet?

Dear Bob - do I remember you? A month does't go by when I don't think about you! Call me, and let's get together.

Several evenings later, Mike and Marie sat at the bar of a small restaurant in St. Lucie, scanning every couple that entered. Finally a distinguished, well-dressed middle-aged gentleman and beautiful woman walked in and looked around. Mike? Bob?
Bob embraced a rather awkward Mike and started to cry. I owe everything to you. You were my inspiration, my hero. You saved my life. They continued to embrace until Mike finally said, you're getting my shirt wet.

The waiter led them to a secluded booth and they began to reminisce. The school principal had walked in one day and told the new music teacher that he had a real juvenile delinquent for him. The kid wouldn't do anything but blow into a trumpet. Mike saw Bobby on stage, trying to play an old, beat up horn. He did everything wrong, but it was obvious that he was going to be a real musician.

Mike began teaching Bobby and the young boy turned into a sponge, absorbing everything. He became Mike's shadow, walking like him, talking like him, playing like him. One day, Bobby was struggling with a difficult passage and Mike played it for him. Will I ever play as good as you?? Bobby blurted out. Mike laughed. You'll play better, he said.

Bobby was from a good family. His father had worked for the railroad, but had been injured and was home on a small pension. His mother had had an hourly job at the school cafeteria until she severely cut her thumb and couldn't work for two months. Money was tight.

Mike's father in law led a band on weekends and Mike talked him into hiring Bobby to carry and set up the equipment. Bobby took his job seriously but when the band began to play, he would stand backstage with his trumpet and finger the notes. After a few weeks Bobby knew all of the songs so Mike wrote second trumpet parts for him. As the months went by, Mike found himself playing second trumpet much of the time.

Mike and Bobby began to duplicate the sound of the Tijuana Brass, a group that was popular at that time. Mike was known as Miguelito and Bobby was Un Poquito. When audiences started requesting the kid, Mike had fourteen year-old Bobby lie about his age and join the musician's union.

Rock and Roll was fairly new; kids were listening and dancing to it but most commercial bands thought it was just a passing fad, so they would hire a guitarist to play a song or two accompanied by a drummer banging on the drumset. Bobby, on the other hand, was a kid who actually listened to the popular rock bands. He began writing out real accompaniments to the new hit tunes and handing the parts to the musicians. With Bobby as music
arranger, the band was more popular than ever.

Bobby's mother was so grateful to Mike that one Friday she sent him a gift in a shopping bag that Bobby carefully carried to Mike's car. When they arrived at Mike's Long Island home, everyone gathered around. Placing the bag on the kitchen table, Bobby lifted out a three-quart wide mouthed jar from which the pickled head of a lamb stared dolefully. Everyone - the wife, the kids, the Great Dane - started screaming and running around. It's a Sicilian delicacy,? said Bobby. The eyes are the best.? Mike assured him that they would have a feast - during the week - but that until then he would keep the jar in the bag and in the pantry. That Monday, Mike gave the lamb's head to the Sicilian trombonist Pete Salemi, whose wife promptly threw both him and the lamb out.

The next week, Mrs. Civiletti came to the school and asked Mike how he liked the lamb. Mike answered honestly that he had never tasted anything like that in his life. Two days later, Bobby showed up with another shopping bag. One day during the week, Mike took the subway to the Long Island Railroad instead of his car. He sat by the door in a crowded subway train with the bag on floor between his legs. At the 34th Street station the doors opened. Mike sat there until the last possible moment then leapt from his seat and off the train as the doors closed. The lamb remained.

Bobby graduated from junior high school and Mike moved to Massachusetts. They kept in touch - Bobby was awarded a scholarship to the Yankton Conservatory where Mike's best friend, Fred Kaufman, was the music chairman and a trumpet professor. Eventually, though, the two lost touch. For almost thirty-five years they had not heard from each other.

Now, in St. Lucie, the two men talked late into the night. The restaurant was deserted except for the owner sitting nearby, listening to the conversation. Finally, they paid the check and left the table.

The two couples walked toward the door. Do you still keep a horn in your trunk? Bob asked. Yeah, said Mike. You? Yeah. They exited the restaurant.

Marie and Bob's wife Hortense instinctively slowed, allowing the two men to walk ahead. The rear of the building was intensely dark. There was no moon, but the stars shone brilliantly. The darkness was briefly broken as the two car trunks were opened and the instruments put together.

The elderly man, Dr. Myer (Mike) Savits, Dean Emeritus of one college, retired Music Education Chairman at a State University, former Director of Music for the Philadelphia Public Schools and now adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University, stared down at his silver trumpet gleaming dully in the starlight. Perhaps he thought of the events that had brought him here, forty years after first meeting the man now standing beside him.

He lifted the horn to his lips as he had done thousands of times while performing with symphony orchestras, jazz bands, society bands and show bands, at recording studios and as a concert soloist.

He warmed up for a few moments with scales and arpeggios, easing finally into bits of Haydn and Stravinsky, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. The old man started to lower his instrument, but almost as an afterthought began to improvise a doyna, a pastoral melody performed by shepherds in Eastern Europe. He started softly in the low register with a rich, warm tone. Slowly he worked his way into the upper register, the tone taking on a shimmering brilliance. The technique of his youth was there, the tremor and arthritis gone for the moment; arpeggios cascading one upon another, myriad notes floating up to the stars like bubbles from a child's bubble pipe. Fragish modes more suited to a violin or a clarinet leapt from the instrument. Then a final breathtaking chromatic scale plummeted from top to bottom ending in a whisper. The old man slowly lowered the trumpet.

It was very dark. Interstate 95 was only about half a mile away but, except for the occasional rustling of the trees, it was utterly quiet.

The distinguished middle-aged gentleman, Bhab (Bob) Civiletti, had had two successful careers in music. After earning college scholarships in trumpet performance he had become a well-known and respected trumpet player, performing as principal trumpet with the Sioux City Symphony, the National Symphony in New York, subbing at Radio City Music Hall, playing with Tito Puente and The Glenn Miller Orchestra, and accompanying stars such as Freda Payne and Stephanie Mills. Some years before, while in Sweden, he had met a group of musician-scholars who were attempting to recreate the sound of the Baroque orchestra of the 1600s and 1700s. Virtually no one could play the natural trumpet for which Bach and Handel had written (the modern trumpet is a relatively new invention).

Bob had mastered this instrument and could now be heard on many recordings. He had authored the definitive book on how to play the natural trumpet and had become a well-known teacher of that instrument. Bob was also a founder of the Buccina Cantorum, a group he had performed with in the United States, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden and Russia.

The younger virtuoso held the strange looking replica of a four hundred year old natural trumpet in his hands and began to play. The tone differed from the modern instrument - it had a lovely soft quality, a sound unmistakably regal. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #2 soared into the night, then the Magnificat. The sound reverberated off the back wall of the restaurant fifty feet away. Every note was a jewel, twinkling like the stars above. The playing was effortless, the intonation perfect, the phrasing stunning, the musicianship consummate. When the last note echoed, the two men stood lost in thought in the darkness, in the silence, unwilling to break the spell.

Finally Mike, his voice hoarse with emotion, whispered, You remember that, forty years ago, you asked me if you would ever play as well as I, and I said that you would play better ............You do.

The two men stood there for a long time, enveloped by the soft night.

Myer (Mike) Savits webpage