My Autobiography by Michael Normandy, Sr.

A lot of the men in my mother's family played musical instruments. The women didn't. I guess they were kept too busy taking care of the house and kids and cooking and all the rest of the hard work women had to do in those days. They did it all without a washing machine and dryer or a dishwasher. Many, like us, didn't even have a refrigerator. We had an ice box. The iceman came in the back door which opened into the kitchen at 37 Conselyea. He carried a big piece of ice and put it right into the icebox. It had a tray at the bottom that had to be emptied or there would be water all over the kitchen linoleum.

The men worked hard at their jobs, when they could get work through the WPA. Times were so hard. However, many Italian men, including some in our family played musical instruments they got before times got tough. Uncle Benny DeGenova, Aunt Bobbie Simonetti's husband, played cornet and drums. He had a dance band that was hired to play on boats that took people up the Hudson River to Indian Point. Uncle Mike DePrisco, Aunt Margaret Simonetti's husband, played the drums. Uncle Frank Devine, Aunt Jennie Simonetti's husband, played the mandolin, and I think we had a granduncle that played the accordion. So three of Mom's sisters married men who played music.

I want to tell you about how I came to play the cornet when I was in high school. I used to go over to a friend's house pretty often. He played the cornet. I really liked the sound of it and wished I could get one. I started going to pawn shops to see how cheap I could get one since we didn't have very much money for anything extra like that during the Great Depression. One day I found one and it was only $12. However, $12 might as well have been $12,000 because there was no way I could ask for that much money, so I gave up.

One day when I went to my friend's house, he told me his parents bought him a trumpet and didn't want him to play cornet anymore. He knew I wanted one so he offered to let me borrow it to see if I liked playing it. I was so happy and started teaching myself how to play it a little and realized it wasn't that hard so I taught myself how to read music a little, enough to get by. Then somehow the cornet fell and the bell got a little dent in it. I took it to a man who could fix and it came out good as new. I decided to return it to my friend before anything else happened to it. After all, it wasn't mine. He asked if I liked it and I said yet. He said, "Keep it, it's yours now." That's how I got a nice cornet during hard times.

Pretty soon I discovered Harry James. He played the trumpet but it wasn't that different from a cornet. I wanted to play "Flight of the Bumblebee" in the worst way. I knew I'd never sound like him but I practiced and practiced and finally could played the melody. He was my inspiration.

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Now Playing: "Flight of the Bumblebee

Performed by Harry James and His Orchestra

From the album: James and Haymes




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