Thursday, February 25, 2010

Remembering Alex Visci, 1910-2010

It was especially sad to pick up the Morning Journal today and see that Alex Visci had passed away a few days ago. To those who knew him, enjoyed his music or took trumpet lessons from him (or all three), he was a truly unforgettable character. Here's a link to his obituary, which talks about his remarkable music career. And here is a link to a story that the Morning Journal did on Mr. Visci back in 2001.

My family's relationship with Mr. Visci goes back to the late 1960's, when my older brother Ken began to take trumpet lessons from him once a week, and my younger brother Ed and I soon followed. Going downtown on Saturday mornings for trumpet lessons was a fixture in our house for years.

Mr. Visci's music studio and instrument repair shop was originally in a rather creepy building at 356 Broadway. The building was largely vacant except for a couple of insurance companies, a lawyer and a letter shop. Eventually the building came down thanks to urban renewal and Mr. Visci was forced to relocate around 1974 to 438 Broadway above Faroh's Candy.

Taking trumpet lessons from Mr. Visci was a unique experience. His raspy voice and larger-than-life personality could be rather intimidating to an elementary school student. During your music lesson, you never knew what would happen. He might flip lighted matches at you or pretend to smack you around – but it was all in fun. One of his favorite bits was to tell you to put your hand on the table as he threateningly held a hammer above it, ready to flatten it. (Of course, he would smack the table a few inches away from your hand.) And woe to you if you hadn't practiced your lesson during the week!

I remember that he would make pencil marks on our music books, indicating what exercises we were to practice that week. Sometimes he would make a simple X, and sometimes he would get more creative and draw a skull and crossbones. Once he even drew a teepee with smoke coming out of it and decided to explain why.

"Do you know what that is?" he asked. "A teepee," I replied.

"Do you know why there's smoke coming out of it?" he asked.  I shrugged.

"Because you're gonna get BURNED AT THE STAKE if you don't practice!" he yelled, smacking me in the arm. Then he would laugh that raspy laugh. Then you would laugh along with him until he suddenly stopped and became serious. But it was always a gag.

He had several favorite terms that he would use as nicknames for people. "Bigack" was one. No one knew what it meant. "Erbs" was another. I was surprised to see that according to his obituary, it was his nickname as well.

The memories of those Saturday mornings are still quite vivid. I can still remember the stack of old Life magazines in his waiting area, the pile of instruments waiting to be repaired, the steady stream of old friends stopping in to see him. I also remember being sent over to the Flame Cafeteria to get him a cup of coffee. And when the trumpet lessons were through, Mr. Visci would admonish us to practice and chase us out of his studio and down the stairs, waving a hammer!

He made trumpet lessons fun, and I've never forgot the music principles that he taught me either. Braces later kept me from continuing as a trumpeter and that was the end of my lessons with Mr. Visci.

For a while, like many of his ex-students and friends, I would stop in as an adult to see him once in a while, always bringing him a cup of coffee. As the years went on, he wasn't always sure which one of the Brady boys I was, but he was always glad to see me and asked about my brothers and parents.

As Mr. Visci entered his 90's, he looked pretty much the same as he always did. To me, he became a Lorain icon much like Woody Mathna and Rosie Brest (of "Rosie's Pizza" fame), who also made it to their 90's and seemed as if they would go on forever. It's sad to know that he's no longer with us.

He was a great guy and will be missed.

So long, Bigack.


Michael Herman said...

Very nice article, Dan.. I, too took trumpet from him, and each of the things you mentioned happened to me, too! He was a great man and definately will be missed. He lived a long life! And I still have my Benge trumpet (the same as the one he played!)..
Michael Herman

-Alan D Hopewell said...

ROSIE'S PIZZA...a name to conjure by.

ShellHamm said...

Bigack! That had me chuckling! I spent 10 years of my childhood living next door to Mr. Visci in Avon Lake. He would often joke with me over our shared fence. When I started playing the flute he would often take it for a thorough tune up. Always jovial is how I will remember him. Given his spirit, it is no surprise to me that he lived such a long life!