When I was in fourth grade, my school offered me the opportunity to join the band. I remember there was a special assembly where someone presented all the instruments available. I remember one of my classmates asking if you had to have long arms to play the trombone. He called her up on stage to give it a try, and she climbed up there, took that trombone in her ten-year-old arms, put her lips to the mouthpiece, and gave it a mighty blow, stretching her arms as far as they’d go. We laughed, but you know what? She played that trombone for the rest of her school career. I settled on the flute. I loved the light sound, the shiny silver, the delicate way it was held and played. But we had to have a first and a second choice instrument, and when I submitted my sign-up form a few days later, the flute section was already full. I was assigned to the clarinet. It would actually be some years before I got over that disappointment, especially since, two years later, my sister won the flute lottery.
Mrs. Schmidt was the elementary school band teacher, and it was her job to teach us how to play the instruments we’d chosen, and then to make us sound like we actually belonged together. In retrospect, I can tell you she was pretty amazing. A, she could play every single instrument in that band, and B, she had the patience of a saint, because you know what? Put a musical instrument in the hands of an unskilled child and it sounds like, well, just awful! But right from the start, we had regular band practice every week, and also small group lessons. Mine was on Wednesday, and I always felt pretty special when I was excused for my lesson!
My mother probably remembers the awful squealing of my clarinet in those early weeks, but I most remember that my cheeks hurt. I had no idea cheeks even had muscles till then! But to play a woodwind, you have to keep your cheeks pulled in tight while you force air through the small space between reed and mouthpiece. In those early days, my cheeks would give up pretty quickly and balloon out, and let me tell you, my friend, balloon cheeks are not a good thing! I have no other particular memories of elementary band, beyond the minty flavor of the disinfectant Mrs. Schmidt sprayed on the mouthpiece when she needed to borrow an instrument to demonstrate. I never quite trusted that stuff.
In middle school, I played for Mr. Ferriola. There were three “chairs” for each section, and if you wanted to move up a chair, you had to challenge another player for their seat. I challenged once, and I was challenged once, and I won my chair both times. I don’t know how, really; I wasn’t diligent about practicing, that’s for sure! A few times a year, we’d have evening concerts, and, oh, how I loved those concerts! I felt about ten feet tall on those nights, sitting there before those packed stands, clarinet in hand. I could play an instrument! I could play it well! And we sounded pretty amazing together! I still miss that. I gave up playing in high school, to my everlasting regret.
So, all grown up now, I lack a band. You’d think with all these children, I could convince them to play enough instruments that we could form our own ensemble, but no. My children have expressed remarkably little interest in the production of music. But there was a class at the library a few weeks ago, and I take random children with me to classes just because. Jonny got dragged to guitar class, and he liked it. I liked it. So we’re learning to play the acoustic guitar together. I don’t know what his motivation is, but mine is to play and sing folk songs with the children, inspired by another amazing music teacher, and also to accompany myself on the random songs I make up for the amusement and edification of my offspring. I made a new one up just last night, singing to the babies while I put their pajamas on. Later, Rosie asked me, “Was that a real song?”
“Did it sound like a real song?” I asked.
“It sounded like something we’d hear on the radio, except for that line about eating all your dinner, so I’m not sure,” she admitted.
I was pretty pleased to hear that, because, you know, I try. Rock on, my friends.
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If you are interested in learning to play guitar, we’re studying under Justin. I like him a lot. He’s really friendly, and the lessons are well organized, and they’re free! If you need a guitar, I got this one a couple of weeks ago for $65, and it’s not bad. Not great, but not bad. The price has gone up now, though, and this one looks a little nicer for the money. Or stop by your local friendly music store and see what they’d recommend! I’m in the market for another, and that’s what I’m going to do.