Editor's Query: Tell us about a time when ... you learned you weren't as smart as you'd thought

Sunday, February 6, 2011; W05

I was in the fifth grade in impoverished rural Indiana when the school notified my parents that tests indicated I was musically gifted. The letter recommended enrolling me in a soon-to-be-formed band program. After cautioning me not to mention to others or to gloat over my innate musical talents, my parents purchased a used clarinet, and by junior high, I was in the band. By high school, I had lost interest.

Fifty years later, remembering the gift, I joined a new Horizons Band, designed for adult beginning musicians. To my dismay, my musical growth seemed just as plodding as it had in junior high.

By happenstance, I attended my high school's 50th reunion. When I mentioned to a classmate I was again pursuing the clarinet to build on that untapped musical talent, he burst out laughing. "We all received those letters," he explained.

It seemed that, in hard times, families were unwilling to invest in expensive instruments. Parents needed their children to work on the farm after school, and the only extracurricular activity widely accepted was basketball. So, to get the parents to support the formation of a band, the letter was sent to everyone in my class.

I would still like to think that my class just happened to be a group with exceptional musical talent -- and not that 50 years of thinking about myself was based on an unethical letter.

Anne M. Rensberger, Washington

New query

Tell us about a time when you were able to "pay it forward."

If you have a 100 percent true story taken from your own experience concerning the above query, send it to queries@washpost.com or The Washington Post Magazine, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Include your daytime phone number. Recount your story in 250 words or fewer.

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