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Joe Maneri: Serial Autobiography

AAJ Staff By

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Giuseppi Di Luca at Jefferson St. was first. He was initially a drummer, a singer of romantic Italian songs (accompanying himself on guitar), a music copyist, and played clarinet. He composed a number of mazurkas, polkas, and waltzes (dance songs) for solo clarinet. As a first teacher, he was an awesome romantic. He first took me to the living room where there was an incredible mahogany desk. Using a black inkwell and fancy pen, he wrote "East Side West Side" and "Let Me Call You Sweetheart". Then we went into the kitchen where he boiled a pot of water to make spaghetti. We sat down with a music stand in front of us and put the freshly copied songs on it. He showed me where to put my fingers for the first song. He then played the first few notes and had me imitate him. Though I hadn't learned to read music yet, I tried to follow the fingering to get the melody of the song. (My ability to make a song actually started when I was about six years old. My Mother would give me half (upper part) of the clarinet and I would blow "sounds". This took place while my Father was out, for he said I must never play music). Sometimes I would get to the lesson a little early to have fun chasing his pretty daughter Roslyn around the table before he got home.

One day, Pietro Bruno came to visit during my lesson. He lashed out at Mr. Di Luca saying I was playing an antique clarinet (Albert system) which was my father's and that I wasn't learning to read music. Now began my second clarinet teacher. My first tools were a proper clarinet Bohem system, a solfegio book by Pasquale Buono and a group of methodically written clarinet books by Lefebre. He would count out loud hitting the music stand on the downbeat shaking it, which made it harder for me to follow. Since I was learning disabled, I could not fully understand half notes, etc. So I started to guess the rhythm and play it over and over till it sounded what I thought to be correct. I also made good progress with him. He lived on Ellery St. and the lessons were in his kitchen where his wife always cooked an amazing delicious smelling dinner. After a while he purchased a black material hard cover "etude" book by Labanchi. Studying this fantastic book from cover to cover, gave me an amazing technique in all sorts of articulation playing original composed melodies. Though I failed all my subjects in grade school, I graduated on to high school. At my graduation, with Mrs. Autori accompanying me, I performed an arrangement for clarinet on "La Aida" and "Theme and Variation on Rigoletto" for clarinet. I believe I played well. I must add Pietro Bruno was also a charismatic romantic. I adored his brand new looking Eb and Bb clarinets in elegant cases. Here's one story I wish to tell. His cat "BeauBeau" had a huge swelling on her neck. The doctor told him to put her to sleep. No way, he said. At home, he continually bathed the swelling with hot compresses. The following week, while at a lesson, he handed me a pretty box made for a ring. I opened the box and inside was a shining gold pin about one & a half inches long. With a big smile, he said the swelling went down from doing the hot compresses and out came the gold pin from the cat's neck.

Joseph Nalbone was my third and last teacher on the clarinet. He was a gentle man but with authority. He told me I must study with him and he was right. My embouchure and tone control was bad. Week after week I was sent home to do more of the same which was long tones in every possible way. Also staccato in all ways (being sure not to move my chin or mouth). I was to look in a mirror to be sure my face, while playing, must look like I was doing nothing. I couldn't understand what I was doing though. I was about fourteen years old and became discouraged and cried hard and long. As usual, my mother would scream at me and told me to immediately quit music. It seemed like all at once, I noticed my sound was "pure" and beautiful. I heard overtones, many nuances. During my time with Mr. Nalbone, we never read any music. Mr. Nalbone's clarinet was a fine instrument, though it did not shine like Mr. Bruno's. He played it only once for me. He told me he had played with the Trenton N.J. Symphony. He quit the symphony and learned to tune accordions and the art of furniture making. He made all his own furniture.

These three fantastic men were created just for me. The fact that I was learning disabled, but didn't know it, I would surely have failed if I were a student of the first clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic.

1941 "Life in Williamsburg"

At fourteen years old, we moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a populated Jewish ghetto. I instantly believed that I was an Italian Jew born in America, enjoying all of the Jewish culture, gestures, soup, and dances.


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