A little while after I got out of the doghouse for quitting the marching band and lying about it, a piece of mail came advertising the spring semester of credit and non credit courses at community college of philadelphia. My mom was going through it and saw a class called Beginning Guitar. It was a non credit evening course that lasted for about 6 or 8 weeks. It was pretty affordable, I forget exactly, like maybe 40-45 bucks. The course description said it would cover chords and songs and that no prior experience was necessary. My mom said she’d be happy to sign me up. I think she even paid for it!
The class was given at the local synagogue/Jewish community center, Beth E’meth B’nai Yitzhok. I had driven by it hundreds of times and was curious about what was inside. I was fascinated by the Jews. We had just spent the previous 2 or 3 years living in a Jewish neighborhood and I always had questions for members of the tribe. I asked a lot, but the reformed Jews usually didn’t know the answers and the conservative Jews wouldn’t talk to me. The orthodox wouldn’t even look at me. Tammy and Terry were the 2 hot Jewish girls on my block. They were 14 when I was 12 and they were both gorgeous and talked about sex a lot. By the time I figured out that Tammy liked me, she didn’t anymore. What an idiot, I was. Maybe seeing the inside of a synagogue would help me to get my game tighter.
I remember before the class debating with my mom whether or not I should bring my guitar. It seems so silly, but we both wondered to each other whether or not I’d need it for the first session. I decided it was better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. She agreed. She dropped me off out front of the place. I went in, expecting to be ushered into a sensual hebraic wonkaland. It was not that. It looked just like a 70s Catholic church, but without any statues or pics of Jesus. Lots of blonde wood and hebrew writing. total letdown. I walked through another set of doors into a big hall. There was a circle of chairs and a few students had already come in and were getting their guitars out of their cases. A short, solidly built blonde haired fellow with glasses was collating papers and spreading out the chair circle. He looked up and said hello and asked me my name. I told him and he checked me off on his list and handed me a packet. He told me to pick a chair and have a seat and to get out my guitar. He seemed warm, friendly, and easy going. His name was Mike. “Mike Kolber” was written on the chalkboard.
I started to unpack my guitar and I was very happy I decided to bring it. Duh. After about another 10 minutes, everybody showed up and got their info packs and got settled. An older guy, maybe in his early 60s came in. Mike said, “You must be Bill!” Bill said, “Yep!”. Mike checked off the final name on his class sheet. “No guitar, Bill?”, Mike asked, one eyebrow raised. Bill said, “I wasn’t sure we’d need it”. “Wasn’t. Sure. We’d need it! Here. At the class called Beginning Guitar!!!” Mike replied loudly, stone cold sarcastic and pretty hilarious, but at the same time, pretty obnoxious. There was a whole second or 2 of silence which felt like much longer, then me and about 3 other people all laughed real loud at the same time like we couldn’t hold it, and just then Mike cracked a big smile and laughed along and said, “It’s ok Bill, I’m just messin with you. We’re gonna cover a lot of material tonight, and you WILL be playing the guitar here, tonight, in this class!” Mike was suddenly orating, talking to the whole assembly of about 10 or 11 students of all ages from 14, my age, up to the senior citizen, Bill. “But you can use my guitar tonight, Bill.” Mike said kindly, instantly shifting again to talking to Bill. “But you do HAVE a guitar, right, Bill? You have an instrument you can play on, practice on?” “Oh yeah!” Bill replied enthusiastically. Mike addressed the entire class again. “That’s one of the first things we’re gonna do tonight. I’m gonna come around and talk to each of you and take a look at these guitars you guys are comin’ in here with. I want to make sure you have a quality instrument that’s going to help you learn to play! You don’t have to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on a guitar! But there are some standards! You’ve gotta have a guitar that’s gonna stay in tune! Thing’s not fallin’ out of tune! Every time you pick it up!” He’s sort of shout talking like a high school teacher, but it’s not off-putting. He’s not a creep. He’s a good guy. Probably a little younger than my folks, but a little older than my Uncle Gene. “You’ve gotta have good strings on it!” he continued. “They can be nylon! they can be steel strings, if it’s a steel string guitar! What they can’t be is 100 years old! Rusted and dead! or just stale because the guitar’s been sitting in the damp basement for 10 years! Action! The instrument has to have good action! what that means is that the strings are close enough to the frets! To the fingerboard! If the guitar has lousy action, all the practice in the world ain’t gonna help! You’re not gonna learn how to play the guitar!” Then quietly, “Tell ya what, Take a look at that packet I gave you.” Then again with the holler, “There’s a summary of what the class is gonna be! There’s a list of the topics we’re gonna cover! The 3rd page…no maybe the 4th page is an information sheet! I want to get some info about you guys! What your skill level is! Your experience is! Maybe if you know something already! we can advance part of the class! We can take on, maybe, some more advanced material! So tell me a little about yourselves! what you’d like to achieve! What you’d like to get out of this class! Whatever questions you’ve always wanted to know! Something you want to ask! about the guitar! About what it takes to learn to play the guitar! An hour a day I tell people! It takes an hour a day! When you first start! To really learn the guitar! That’s right! Play for an hour a day! For the first year or so! Sounds like a lot! I promise you it’s not! Not a lot! For the amount of joy! The amount of satisfaction that comes with it! Just the sound of it alone! No greater satisfaction! No greater enjoyment!
He had us all hypnotized.