Late musician brought music to her ears

Today we have the Music in the Park concerts to entertain us on summer Sundays. In my youth, our family had to venture no farther than our front porch to get a free concert in the open air: the mellifluous sounds of the musical Marsteller family, practicing wind and brass instruments, often together, in their Paulette Place living room. The Marstellers' open windows and a quiet neighborhood not yet assaulted by the noise of the soon-to-be-built 210 Freeway made for a great listening experience.

The Marstellers moved onto the block in the late 1950s, just weeks before we arrived. Bob and Lorraine were the parents of three: Loren, Marlys and Duane. Loren was in the same class as one of my sisters and Marlys was a bit ahead of me in school. It was Marlys who advised me during my earliest elementary school days — in what I recall to be a somewhat serious tone — that I really should learn to play the flute one day, her instrument of choice.

And so, when I reached third or fourth grade and the gentle hand of music teacher Dean Logsdon was made available at Paradise Canyon Elementary School to those who wanted to play in band or orchestra, I convinced my mother to sign me up. Then I broke the news that we needed to procure a flute.

It wasn't tough convincing her that I was musically inclined, as I'd been hammering away on the family piano since toddlerhood, but she was necessarily frugal and didn't quickly embrace the idea of purchasing another instrument. She'd fallen for that suggestion before, when my older brother Larry begged for an accordion, then abandoned it shortly after taking it up. We were reminded of that purchase every time we opened the hall coat closet where the offending instrument languished in its case, untouched, for years.

But Mom ultimately decided she was willing to take a risk that I would play the flute for longer than five minutes. She called Bob Marsteller, who was then principal trombonist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and asked his advice. He did some research and found a rent-to-own flute that he felt would fit the bill.

I have never forgotten his kindness when he brought it to our house and showed me how to put its three pieces together. He explained the importance of taking care of the instrument and keeping it clean. He then gave me an introductory lesson. Mr. Marsteller treated me, probably 9 years old at the time, with respect and dignity as a fellow musician.

So I became a member of the school band, playing the flute and later the oboe, through eighth grade. Mr. Marsteller continued with the Philharmonic and taught trombone, euphonium and tuba at USC. And I continued to enjoy the free open-air concerts provided by him and his children until Loren and Marlys grew up and flew the coop and, in 1975, the unthinkable happened: Mr. Marsteller died at the age of 56. Too soon, as Marlys reminded me the other day.

My memories of the late Bob Marsteller came to mind after Marlys brought in a press release announcing that he was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award by the International Trombone Assn. How wonderful for the family, especially his widow Lorraine, to know that his many accomplishments are not forgotten, all these years later.

My flute? Still have it. It is, no kidding, in our hall closet, its case untouched since the days our daughter took lessons. But I'm not giving it up. It holds too many good memories.

CAROL CORMACI is managing editor of the La Cañada Valley Sun. E-mail her at ccormaci@valleysun.net or carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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