Monday, July 07, 2008

Band Music with A Repeat

My summer band, at least 100 people strong, gave its July 4th concert on the 5th, and the crowd was happy. We did some traditional songs like the National Anthem and Stars and Stripes Forever, that undying God Bless the USA (gosh, I wish that would die), and 1812 Overture. There were other numbers in there with a couple of vocal solos and marches like you'd expect, and we got a standing ovation or two. My favorite number to play was American Overture—it's an exhilarating horn section feature with lots of great phrases, and you can even hear us through all the trombone and trumpet blaring. It was a lot of fun, although that could just be me. I do tend to approach these things with the enthusiasm of a little kid about to dig into a sugar cone stuffed with double chocolate ice cream, or mint chocolate chip if you prefer.

In band music, in order to keep the music down to a page or two, pieces are written with repeats—you go back and play the previous section a second time so the publisher doesn't have to reprint all the notes. If the piece is somewhat long or boring, some directors will opt not to take the repeats and just play the thing straight through. Today, as the director of my blog, I opt to take the repeat and give you a piece I wrote several years ago after playing American Overture at a rehearsal. This was written the first year I started playing horn and printed here last August.


Summer Band (2001)

As I walked down the steps into the family room, I took inventory, for the third time. I had my keys. I had my purse. I had my horn. And I had an unruly stomach that was begging to stay home.

“Please, don’t go to band rehearsal. Please, stay home and eat cookies.”

In a book about conquering fears, I had read that we each have a “chatterbox” in our heads reciting negative thoughts. I was beginning to believe that my “chatterbox” was not rooted in my damaged psyche but was intestinal instead.

“In saying ‘yes’ lies the antidote to our fears,” stated this same book. So, I ignored my inner grumbling, said “yes” to band rehearsal, a very frightening prospect, and headed out the door.

As I followed the now familiar route down Walnut to 5th, I couldn’t help but review what had me gripped with fear all afternoon. At the top of the fifty steps would be a bandroom full of musicians. They would all be proficient and able to sight-read. They would likely be music teachers and confident players. They would all know each other. I, on the other hand, would be a beginner, a non-professional unable to play beyond eighth notes, and a cowering student with a stomach that was threatening mutiny.

Saying “yes,” I parked my car. Saying “yes,” I got my horn and climbed the fifty steps. And, saying “yes,” I entered the bandroom with a prayer: “Dear God, please make these next three hours go quickly.”

I scanned the room for my horn teacher, the one familiar face, the one person who would recognize me and know that I belonged there, if only because he had invited me. I found my trumpet playing friend instead, and her husband who plays trombone. Finally, there was my teacher.

“Hey, kiddo. We’re in the second row.” He pointed to his horn, which was resting in a chair behind the flute section, and he directed me to the seat to the right. I planted myself in that hard-as-cement yellow chair as if it were an anchor. I would just hold on right here and wait this out.

The sections began to fill up with excited people ready for a brand new Greco band. After sorting out some music for all of our folders, my teacher worked his way up to our row and slapped me on the arm with the back of his hand, his non-verbal way of saying I would be fine. I smiled, but his encouragement lacked the necessary leverage to pry my figurative grip from the yellow seat.

On the director’s platform stood a perspiring man with a baton and nervous lips that he pursed from time to time as if he were about to whistle. Fred Delphia, overjoyed with this moment that had been six months in the planning, tapped his stand to stop all of the disjointed warming up and chit chat, and called his group to order. He told us all how he had wanted to start this band up again, after eleven years of hiatus. With the encouragement of his friends, he came out of band-director retirement, and here we all were—professionals, teachers, top-notch players ready to go.

“For the love of God. What have I done,” I began to say to myself. But wait. Where was the “loving voice" I had read about in the fear book? Didn’t it have anything to say at this particular moment when I needed “love?”

“All right. You’re here as a student, and this experience will be an extension of your lessons. You’ll play what your teacher plays, and when it’s over, you’ll be a better musician.” Did I really believe that? Maybe only a little, but the speech was sufficient to stop me from curling up in a ball and rolling home.

Fred raised his baton, and we read through song after song. A Sousa march. A Dixieland medley. “The Four Hornsmen,” one of the few that allowed the horn players to do something other than keep time on the off beats. As long as my stand partner was playing, I was able to find my way. I was beginning to loosen my grip on the chair and even believe that I could pull this off. Then, the next number, “American Overture.”

As Fred introduced the song, I saw myself at sixteen standing on the thirty-yard line, elbow to elbow with the other mellophone players. We were silent and at attention waiting for the command.

“Mark time. Mark!” Monica Newell, the drum major, barked as she clapped the beat with her white-gloved hands. “One. Two. Three. Four,” she called out in the military voice she used to prove that a girl could do the job, and we stepped off to the fanfare. “American Overture” was the opener to our field show.

While Fred directed the beats in the bandroom, and the group played from their yellow chairs, I was instead marching on a football field, moving in step with the 200 or so other marchers, my gold cape flowing behind me, my horn raised to a stadium full of parents and competing bands. “I think I can do this after all. I’ll just have to practice a little more (OK, a lot more) than these other people—the pros, the real musicians, the ones who can follow the music without hanging onto their teachers.” It was another speech, but I believed this one.

“In saying ‘yes’ lies the antidote to our fears.”


Rich said...

“In saying ‘yes’ lies the antidote to our fears.”

Yes indeed it does Robyn - yes it does.

Great post and I enjoy your band stories. Now let's hear that one about the trombone player who made a pass at you that time -please?

Scout said...

Rich, I have no idea what you're talking about, although over the weekend, a family offered to give me a hotdog in exchange for playing a song for them. I had to pass.

Rich said...

Sorry Robyn, I must have had you confused with another horn player with the same name as you.

hmmmmm a hotdog for a song -not a bad deal, if you like hotdogs.

Scout said...

Rich, you know another horn player named Robyn?