My grandfather used to sit on the ledge of the fireplace, take out his clarinet, and serenade his grandchildren with jazz. In the 1940s, his parents, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, considered an offer from the Wurlitzer Piano Company to give their son ten low-cost music lessons. My grandfather wanted to play the trumpet or the drums; his parents wanted something quieter. Out of consideration for the neighbors, a woodwind was chosen. And so began my grandfather’s brief career as a professional musician, culminating with his service in the Marine Corps Orchestra during World War II.   Music has always provided me with an emotional connection to my grandfather. We grew up in different times, in different neighborhoods, and in different types of Jewish families. But we shared a musical ear, and I took up the clarinet in the 4th grade.   For this reason, I kept my grandfather’s clarinet when he passed away in 2015. Whenever I see it, I remember his concerts, only now appreciating the deeper significance they probably held for him. The instrument also allows me to imagine my grandfather’s lived experience as a first-generation immigrant growing up in East New York. I wonder why a poor Orthodox family spent precious funds on music lessons for their son; I envision household debates about playing on the Sabbath; and I picture my grandfather learning to read American jazz music while learning to read Hebrew. Today, this is the object I most associate with family history.

– Barry Goldberg

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