Jose Sponberg

If you were to search through the ICS Photo Archives, you would find a clown playing a cello. That is me, or should I say, my clown "Charlie." There you can see me at my best. My name is Jose Sponberg, but you may know me as Joe S on the cello chat boards. I am a short and fat electrician who clowns for fun and collects musical instruments for the love of it.

It seems as if I have sung or played music forever. My earliest musical success was winning the conducting position for the combined second grade class. I would punctuate the Moo Moo's and Oink Oink's of Old McDonald's farm with great flair. This also occasioned my earliest remembered lie; I told a friend I had gone to conducting school.

As the darkest and shortest kid in a town of Scandinavians (Portland, Oregon), music helped me to be somewhat accepted. I started on the trombone, but could not reach seventh position (I still have a problem with that). After denting my slide I almost quit, but the director said he needed a tuba player. So I would slide my small self into a sousaphone stand, where my feet could not touch the floor. I must have played okay, because he soon handed me a solo, "In the Hall of the Mountain King". Wow, I know this!

In this hick town of country western and polkas, my total exposure to classical music was a set of "Readers Digest" LP's. These I would play each night on the HiFi that I kept in my room. Then I would read sci-fi and "Tarzan" as Holst visited the planets and Scheherazade weaved her tales. Sadly I never did play that solo.

I continued playing but the music was becoming an endless repetition of oom-pa's. Then in my junior year of high school, Mr. Hanson came, and with him were my old friends. The oom-pa's became rolling waves, colors of other worlds, or the rhythm of Ben Hur's oar. I loved dragging my sousaphone home to play "The Unfinished Symphony" with my old records.

In this town, nobody made a living with music, so I went to college to be a biologist. I wanted to be the first biologist on the moon. Hey, it was a way out of town. I did play in the brass choir, doubling on the baritone. The music professor gave all of his students a "Music Talent Test". When I scored 99%, he went nuts. He wanted me to change my major, but again I saw no future, i.e., no money in music.

To pay for college, I taught swimming, among other things. The development of "Charlie" started here. Clowning around helped reduce the kids' fears. At a Christmas party, given by the college students for the local kids, I was a big hit as an elf. Many of my students saw through my disguise and tried to blow the whistle. Not denying that I was their teacher, I asked if they could be sure I was not also a very tall elf, sent to spy on them. I had the nicest classes until Christmas.

When I transferred to a four-year college, I dropped the tuba. But I found that I needed a musical outlet. After a friend showed me how to hold a classical guitar, I put nylon strings on an old Silvertone by Sears and bought a book. Not a method book, but "The World's Favorite Solos for the Classical Guitar." This is a backward way of learning, but, between school and work, I slowly learned how to play.

Things were going fine, still in school, still working, when I bought my first classical guitar. I had even helped teach a guitar class taught by a folk singer. (Chords? What the heck are chords?!) But like most men of my age (I'm now 48), Vietnam got in the way. My lotto number was 13, so I had to do something.

Navy boot camp was rough, but I found a guitar in the chaplain's office. Away from home and not prone to do the stereotypical sailor things, I was alone. For the first time the guitar became my friend, lover and confidant. She was always there, ready, willing, and responsive. Though still working on pieces by others, I started just playing, letting the music flow where I needed it to go. One of my very first pieces tells of the loss of a girlfriend. It says in music what I could not say to a bunch of drunken sailors.

My ship, a carrier, went to the Mediterranean. There was lots of music, beautiful people, and, at last, clothes that fit me! Wherever I went, the people thought I was one of them. It was here that I started collecting instruments.

After three years, nine months, and four days, I got out of the Navy, and returned to the plan of school and work, while still teaching swimming. But at the age of 26, thinking that the world was mine, I made my biggest mistake: I got married. (Yes, ladies, the fault from the beginning to the end was mine.) Now needing to make more money, I fell back on my Navy training and became an electrician. Work, marriage, and school were too great of a burden for me, and so I dropped out. My music and my two daughters were my blessing. I would not only read to them each night but would play for them as they went to sleep. I also joined the Portland Guitar Society and played my first solo in public in front of them.

My eldest daughter's only string concert consisted of second year students playing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", and then the first year students playing the same thing. In order to draw things out, the teacher asked if any of the second year students would like to play "Twinkle Twinkle" as a solo. We heard several attempts, all falling short. When no more hands went up from the second year kids, and the teacher looked like she was ready to kill herself, Stephanie asked if she could try. The teacher hesitated, and I slid down in my chair. I had worked hard with her at home and she always played the F very flat. But the brat blew us away! Afterwards she was sought out and complimented by many, and the teacher tore up her suicide note. It is still my proudest musical moment.

Somewhere in all of this I picked up a nice keyboard and decided I wanted a grand piano, but, because of a divorce and a lack of space, it had to wait. Needing to pay out more money, I went back to teaching swimming after my day job. On Saturday mornings, I guarded the lap swimmers -- BORING. To bide the time, I would play a plastic recorder. From the classics to the blues, you can play anything on the recorder. And the acoustics of the pool were great! The sound would travel though the air vents to the lobby and dressing rooms. It was cool, and the swimmers loved it, well, most of them.

I also started clowning, taking classes in the art of clowning, creating my own costumes, and developing my own face. All of that clowning around as a swimming instructor paid off. As a "First of May Clown", i.e. novice, I won the "Most Improved" award. (It takes two hours to become "Charlie".)

Back at the pool, there were a lot of single moms. Leery of my big mistake, I was very careful. When I finally decided to ask someone out, it had been two years of looking, and I was as nervous as a teenage kid again. Now seven years later, she is the love of my life and I love her two girls as if they were my own. On our first vacation together, I added a shakuhachi to my collection. Her memorable words were "A hundred and twenty five dollars for a piece of bamboo!"

Now after much remodeling, I have a place for my five-and-a-half foot grand, as well as a sitar, an erhu, and my lovely cello. My collection numbers around thirty, many coming from flea markets and garage sales. Some of them I play, most I play with. And though I need to buy a good bow to match my cello, my skill with the bow is not up to the task of letting me do what I want. So my next addition will be the upright tuba, which I stopped playing many years ago. Maybe someday I will play "In The Hall Of The Mountain King".

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