May 6 2016: Community needs all our unsung ‘second-fiddlers,’ by Gordon Morrison

May 6, 2016 by

Gordon Morrison

Gordon Morrison

Recently I was given the opportunity to be a contributor to this series of columns, which is designed to give encouragement to those who are striving to build our Concordia community in positive ways. Hum, I thought. Where can I go for some inspiration? What should I write about?

Then I thought, Perhaps I’ll find something I’ve written before. You know, at 87, sometimes the old becomes new again. So I am recycling one of my articles from the “Learning Post” titled “Second Fiddle.”

My high school music teacher approached me with “Gordon, you have musical ability. Would you consider enrolling in band this year? You could learn to play an instrument that you could play for the rest of your life and at the same time help us fill a void in the band.”

It was a real struggle for the small high schools to keep their programs active and well attended during World War II. I felt flattered to be asked to join the band but I didn’t have an instrument, until the director informed me that the band had only one bass horn player and there were two horns in the cabinet just collecting dust. I could use one of them.

For the first several weeks, I was faithful to report to the practice room and take lessons. Blowing into the mouthpiece made my lips tingle and itch. It took a lot of wind to make a sound come out of the big horn that encircled my body – wind, I was not short of.

With only three valves, it looked fairly simple. I thought, I’ll be able to get the hang of this horn and then I’ll be able to march in the band.

As weeks moved into months, my interest began to wane. As winter approached, the band moved from the marching phase to the concert phase. The director let me sit with the band but asked me not to blow loud. Here is where I learned about first chair, second chair and continuing in order down the line. Since there were only two bass horns, I guess I was in the second position.

A girl I secretly admired played the clarinet. She was working hard to be first in that section. Soon she made that first chair and moved to the front where she could be seen and heard best. It became a real incentive to all the band members to practice hard and perform well for the higher chair positions.

As for me, my musical career was short and undistinguished. But it wasn’t a complete waste of time and I learned the meaning of the saying, “to play second fiddle.”

Not all, but most of us, like to be “up front and center.” It seems to be a natural, inherent desire to have a position of great exposure for the world to see us and our talents. Our society is also structured so the winner is acclaimed and rewarded with trophies, prizes, up front positions, headlines and bigger salaries.

I have watched “pecking order” function and I am sure it is for real. Most of us are pecked by some and we in turn peck others. The desire to play first chair or first fiddle enhances the curse of the pecking order. You see it occurring in our school systems, on our jobs, in civic organization and even our most devout churches. All can be plagued with this malady. One could say it is a great motivating force and that is true, but it also can create jealousy and discord among the troops.

I pass this thought on to you: It is often the persons playing second fiddle who bring harmony to the group.

For example, the individuals with their arms in hot water with stacks of dirty dishes waiting to be cleaned for the next big feed are the people who prevent the bottlenecks and keep things flowing to a harmonious tune. Transportation workers, usually unknown to most, keep our streets and roads in good repair, treat for ice and plow off the snow so everyone can get where they need to go safely. Sanitation and water treatment workers, also usually nameless to most of us, make sure our waste disposal is sanitary and our water supply is safe and plentiful. The nurses who empty the urinals, give the back rubs, get the patients up and walking, and keep the records play a vital role in the patient’s well-being, supporting the doctor who is playing first fiddle.

My hat is off to all second fiddlers; their quiet unsung work helps our community run smoothly.


— Gordon Morrison is a retired educator, author and local rancher.



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