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A tribute to a Chamber of Commerce musician

By Lawrence Henry
web posted July 23, 2001

I was once waiting with my son for a violin lesson at the New Jersey Workshop for the Arts (NJWA) in Westfield. Dr. Theodore (Ted) Schlosberg, the founder and head of NJWA, was giving a french horn lesson to a teenage girl, working through a passage from a Mozart concerto. The girl seemed to be spacing out, making obvious mistakes.

"You're not paying attention," Ted said. "You need an audience. C'mere."

He grabbed two folding chairs and took them outside, onto the sidewalk in busy downtown Westfield. He set up a music stand and continued the lesson right there.

The girl played better.

If you've heard the Ricola Cough Drop commercials on AM radio, you've heard Ted Schlosberg [Ricola Alphorn sound in Windows .wav format (141K)]. Among many other instruments, he plays the alp horn, a 12-foot-long cornucopia-shaped wooden monster with a brass-style mouthpiece.

He struck a deal with Ricola to help sponsor the NJWA. You might call Ted a Chamber of Commerce musician. He's been the director of a school district's music program. He's adroit at lining up business connections. He knows everybody. He's always working the angles.

Yet, most of the time, when you call the NJWA and ask for Ted, the person who answers the phone says, "He's teaching." I have no idea how many lessons he gives a week, on virtually any instrument: violin, saxophone, french horn, trumpet, trombone. Certainly more than 40.

I got the benefit of Ted's teaching at a rehearsal of the NJWA jazz big band one Saturday afternoon. That afternoon, not too many people had showed up.

Lynn McCabe, on alto, and I on tenor, made up the entire saxophone section.

Ted called "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B," a lickety-split swing tune with the melody carried by the saxes.

Lynn and I looked at each other.

"Ted," I said. "I usually hide on this one. I can't really play fast enough to carry the theme."

Lynn laughed. "Me too," she said.

"Oh, you can do it," Ted scoffed. "Here, let's take it phrase by phrase."

And he showed us. He didn't pay any attention to the speed of the passage.

Instead, he had us work on enunciation and phrasing. In fifteen minutes, we could play it.

As a musician, Ted has his shortcomings. When he conducts the jazz band, we rag him about his choice of tempos. He's not really a soloist, not in the jazz sense. So he has hired real jazz musicians to rehearse and conduct the jazz band most of the time. Ted himself will join whatever section needs an extra horn. He can lead, he can organize, he knows everything about instrumental technique, and he never gets tired or discouraged.

The man's a miracle, in short, and I'm glad I know him.

So are lots of other people. One of the nice things about the jazz band is the range of age of its players. I'm probably the oldest, at 53. The youngest are about 13. One of my pals, psychologist Richard DiBiagioli, who plays trumpet, captured the lovely feel of playing with this youngsters in an anecdote.

"I turned to Carl at rehearsal one day," Richard said, "and asked him where he was last week. He said, 'Aw, I had to do my homework.'" Richard laughed.

"I had completely forgotten how old he was."

Carl, by the way, has been playing trumpet only two years, as I was astonished to find out at our last rehearsal. When I complimented him on his playing, he said, "I had a good teacher."

So he did: Ted. At our concerts this summer, Ted has been announcing a new idea. He has found a craftsman who can rout, shape, and drill conch shells so you can blow a note on them, like a one-note trumpet.

"Anybody who wants to join our conch shell band," he'll tell the summer crowds, "come and let me know. We'll have about two dozen shells, each tuned to a certain note, and you'll learn to play one note in an ensemble melody." (Kind of like a hand-bell choir, if you've ever heard one of those.)

"I'm going to see if I can get a sponsorship from the Dole company, and we'll take a trip to Hawaii."

I wouldn't put it past him.

Lawrence Henry is a regular contributor to Enter Stage Right.

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