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Reminiscences of a Former Band Geek


No surprise – I was a band geek in high school. Although "band geek" normally conjures up images of marching bands and I only marched because it was required. I played flute for fourteen years, and was first seat when we graduated. Although that probably wasn’t terribly difficult in a school as small as ours was – about 800 students in all four grades. I can’t say that I really had a passion for music. I enjoyed it, and I still miss it, but not enough to seek out places where I could play. I DO wish that there was somewhere I could play in the SCA, but the instrumental music groups that I’m aware of are all inconveniently far away – and involve people who are very passionate about music. I would never be more than a dabbler, and that would probably be a problem. The local baronies have never generated people who are interested in instrumental music. Vocal pops up occasionally, but not instrumental – and no one wants to hear me sing.

For some reason, on the drive in to work this morning I was thinking about the last winter band concert I played in during high school. Mr. Cotton, frustrated by the limited possibilities of the tiny high school band, decided to put together a system-wide concert. He came up with arrangements of "Mars" and the "1812 Overture" suitable for every instrument playing student in the entire Brookfield school system. The parts for the elementary school kids were all rests and whole/half notes, the middle school got quarter and eighth note parts, and the high school students got the (to us) terrifyingly complicated parts. Each band practiced their bits separately, and then we had a couple of combined practices – he scattered the younger kids throughout so that the older ones could mentor/help them. One of the things I remember is that for whatever reason that year he had a lot of percussion. A LOT. So he took every bass drum the school owned, and put the fourth and fifth graders up at the back of the concert hall with them. They provided the cannon shots in 1812. I may never forget the sight of them up behind the audience practically quivering to be let loose. It was a brilliant use of resources.

But the thing that always sticks with me about that concert is the music. From the inside. As I said, it was a small school – during my time there I don’t think the high school band ever got past forty people, and usually half of them were flutes. It made things… challenging for the director.

That combined concert was the largest number of people I had ever played with, and the scores, while grossly cut down for a high school band/audience were the most ambitious we had ever attempted. It was… amazing. With money you can go to see an orchestra and get damn good seats and hear everything. But it’s different sitting with the musicians. You’re completely surrounded by the music – it’s something that you feel as much as hear. The audience is hearing with their ears, but you’re hearing it with every part of your body – your liver is as involved as your eardrums. Especially if you’re sitting in front of the brass... If you’re serious about what you’re creating it’s an emotionally shattering experience. Being a part of that organism, creating a sound, a sensation, a moment that requires all of you, and all of you to work together and to be just so…I don’t have words.

I’m a sucker for "big" music, and I think I blame those pieces. The big orchestral scores or the massed voices "disaster movie" type vocal scores (think "Carmina Burana") move me to tears. Which can be profoundly embarrassing out in public, but I’m stuck with it.

Like I said, I’m not sufficiently passionate to go find a community orchestra or anything like that. The practical fact of the matter is that I don’t have time for the hobbies that I already pursue.

But there are times, when the movie is coming to that climactic point where the music swells and the trumpets come in fortissimo… I want that moment again.

And I always play Holst on eleven.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 11th, 2009 10:34 pm (UTC)
Well dang girl, I never knew you played the flute! That was my primary instrument until I got into the recorders. You know I can so completely relate to all of this. I got addicted to that feeling, and while it transitioned from being primarily instrumental to primarily vocal, I love those moments. There is not better feeling than when it "clicks." To try to describe it to someone who hasn't lived it is well nigh impossible...and I used to write for a living.

I know I'm one of those passionate about music people you're talking about. I literally can't live without it. The six months after graduation when I wasn't doing any music and the job was so stressful were nearly the end of me. I've never been so close to a nervous breakdown, and I never want to go there again. It was a very scary feeling!!

I guess I was an even bigger geek, because I actually liked marching band too. Heck, I was the head geek junior and senior year as the drum major. I even still have my mace that I used for parades. It was my first conducting gig and I learned a lot.

Ah well, yet more we have in common!! Oh, and BTW, you are always welcome to dabble with me when it comes to music. I know I play with some of the scary folks, but that doesn't mean I won't just pull out some recorders and read through some simpler stuff with you.
Jun. 13th, 2009 11:34 am (UTC)
is a period recorder group that's semiresident at our church. They perform once or twice a year in the context of a worship service and once or twice in concert.
Jun. 15th, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
Band geeks unite. I played bells & general percussion in college. Attempted to learn the saxophone too but that was gory. As was the one time someone forced me to play tri-toms....brrr it still makes me shiver.

Your Mr. Cotton sounds like a genius....I wonder if he ever made his score available to other schools. I know that *I* would have quivered to be a cannon in 4th grade too! Geez, a chance to bang as loud as I want and get applauded for it. Geez.

Add me to the list of instrumentalists looking for a low-key musical outlet. I've got a modern-ugly mandolin -- but hey, it's a mandolin. I suck at chords still, but individual notes I can read off fine.

Rob&I also have a few 'standard' recorders and one larger one. I'm not even sure what key it is...and I don't have enough music theory to do more than just play what notes I see on the page, so if it's not scored already I'm hopeless.

But I'm willing to try! Assuming V doesn't get sick, I'll be at the meeting on the 29th...I'll try to tote it along as well as the toddler.
Jun. 15th, 2009 01:52 pm (UTC)
one more thought... Come November/December, keep your eye open for a "Messiah sing-along" -- those frequently include musicians as well. Talk about big music...
Jun. 15th, 2009 11:24 pm (UTC)
Okay, having played some of those flute parts, I can tell you that would be pure masochism!! I still practice, and have been trying to work myself back up to the Mozart flute concerto I could once play, but I would still have to practice on the Handel. Those 16th note mellismas are a bear and a half!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )