I think it was the summer before my junior year in high school that I didn’t really put much effort into playing the trumpet… I had played since sixth grade, and had never had to work too hard to have a good sound and play decently.
At this point, I think I had taken it a bit too much for granted, and so practicing had dropped quite low on my list of activities the summer before junior year.
I had also just spend a chunk of the summer studying in Spain, so my focus was more on Spanish – a subject I did not study in school – than on preparing for August chair placements for band.
My brother picked me up from the audition/chair test – he was an alum of the school, and so had spent a bit of time looking around while we were doing the test – and drove me on his motorcycle to a dance class. I wasn’t taking the dance class, but I was working the welcome desk for it, in exchange for a free group class of my choosing later on… I also had the added benefit of watching this class happen, and learning from the seated sidelines.
Basically, I was focused on doing my best to live frugally with dance, because I was all too aware of my family’s financial situation – well, my mom’s side, anyway… my dad’s was a different story, but I functioned with the mind of one with extremely limited funds, so that’s why I was spending hours of my time working the welcome table at dance classes, in exchange for a ten-dollar class…
Anyway, so I rushed from the chair test to the dance class, loving the first ride on my brother’s motorcycle – while simultaneously being terrified(!) – and had asked a classmate to send me a text message with the results, when they came out in another ten or so minutes.
I was placed absurdly low in terms of capability…, and it hurt my spirit a lot.
But, I imagine, it was entirely valid based on the amount of practice I had put into it all.
I had begun this with a certain incident in mind, but I am not wondering if that incident was even that year… I am beginning to think it was the following year, my senior year, that this incident happened…, but I’m really not sure.
I shall continue with the incident, nonetheless…
So, I was placed after this one kid, who had become a semi-distant friend of mine. We sat side-by-side five mornings a week for 45 minutes, and chatted here and there, so we were comfortable with one another’s company, but we didn’t spend time together outside of band, right?
Anyway, I had liked being in the Jazz Band, and you had to be placed so high in the count of trumpets in order to be included in the Jazz Band each year. I had placed one below what was included in Jazz Band membership. So, I initiated a challenge. The two band directors each picked a selection of our current music, and told us to prepare to play those and any two scales that they would say at the challenge.
The day of the challenge arrived. I played beautifully for the selections, and my sound quality was stellar. The guy had incredibly powerful sound, though with a very odd and un-musical edge to it all, as usual. The scales they selected, naturally, involved playing really high… something which I was not great at doing, but that usually didn’t matter at our area in the chair placements (higher notes for higher chairs), and I could play the ones that popped up in our music… what’s more, this kid and I played off the same sheet and stand, meaning the only difference, if I were to win the challenge, would be that we would switch chair spots, and that I would be in Jazz Band when it started up, but he would not be in it. In terms of performance in the band, nothing would change. Nonetheless, they picked scales that were hard for me, and I made the decision to play beautifully for a single octave, instead of iffily on the second octave… one I had been taught by the band director himself.
We had assigned ourselves the letters of A and B. When the challenge finished, the directors came out from behind the wall, an area from which they had not been able to see us during the challenge. They told us that player A had won, and who was that? The guy wasn’t quite sure which letter he had been, and so looked to me questioningly for help. I, processing much more than the result of the challenge, informed him kindly that he had been player A, and so nothing was changing with our chair rankings.
What was I processing?
Well, the way the band director had delivered the news… He had put on an air of unknowing, as though he hadn’t known who player A and player B had each been. I had only been on the planet a teen number of years, and had minimal musical training, – he had had probably more musical training than I had had in years of life itself – yet I could tell the difference in almost every player in our band, especially the trumpet players. And he played trumpet, too, so I knew that he knew each of our individual sounds. Especially between this guy and myself, the identification was easy… even for someone who had never heard us beforehand, one could accurately guess whose sound was which.
So, I knew the band director knew who had won… yet he pretended not to know, to be utterly unaware of who had been which player… It felt like he was proving a point to me, that I needed to practice more… no matter how good of a sound I had, if I didn’t improve further, I couldn’t even beat the nice guy with a weird sound. I had taken lessons from the band director during my freshman year, but had been able to manage on my own eventually, and so we did not continue the lessons after a while. For me, no matter what his intentions were, his pretended ignorance of who had one the challenge was like a slap in the face and a terrible scolding… I was embarrassed and somewhat heartbroken.
I had let someone else down, too…, not just myself. I knew that he had wanted me to be in a higher chair placement, and that he had wanted me to be in Jazz Band. But he was not going to let me do that without putting in a lot more effort.
Again, that is all my own interpretation at the time.
But it still holds about the same, looking back on it all today.
The irony of it all, however, is that, when Jazz Band started up that year, the band director casually upped the number of trumpets in Jazz Band… by one player. So, I ended up in Jazz Band, anyway.
The following year (Or the year after that, depending on which year this had all been during), I ranked even lower in the chair placements at the end-of-summer chair test. After several weeks of Jazz Band rehearsals, someone was sent one day to bring me into Jazz Band… so, I ended up in it then, too. I was clearly good enough for Jazz Band – I even practiced that music, including when I didn’t really need to practice it, because that music came so naturally and easily for me – and the band director agreed with that sentiment enough that he kept letting me be part of it, even though I didn’t ever do well with the whole ‘practice on your own over the summer’ thing. During the school year, I was always fine, and I always got A’s on my playing tests at grading periods. It was when there wasn’t a concert or performance coming up, and I wasn’t surrounded daily by musicians and music that I struggled to practice and perform well.
I’m not entirely sure what brought all of this up today… I am reading a book about poetry that was recommended to me as a novelist/writer, because it is supposedly applicable to all forms of writing (which, the author even says this in the book, and it seems so far to be entirely true…, but it makes me want to write poetry now, too!). Something in that got me thinking, and somehow sent me to that memory moment of embarrassment after the chair challenge with that guy. I wonder if he even remembers it… if any of them do. Clearly, it had some significance for me… whew…
Anyway… I’ll let that muse in the background, while I move on to other things in my day now. 😉