Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Saddest Music in the World

Many of you probably remember that I currently teach in the same school I attended back in my days as a high school student. I was big in the band back then, which at that school wasn't as dorky as it sounds. When your graduating class of just over 140 is the largest in history for the school at that time and your band program puts about 260 kids onto the field every Friday night in the fall, there just aren't enough kids left over to make fun of the ones out there in the funny hats.

That's not saying I wasn't dorky. I totally was. My size kept me from getting picked on, but I was incredibly dorky. I'm just saying that it wasn't being in the band that lowered my social status.

Anyway, the guy who was the band director back when I was in high school is still there teaching kids to always start on the left foot. Today he was getting one of the concert bands ready (the marching band breaks up into three smaller bands divided by ability level for the concert season) and was playing them a piece that he's wanting them to play this year. Turns out that the last time he directed that particular piece of music was when I was a senior in high school. He had pulled out an old recording of our band performing the piece to play for his current students. During the last period of the day, he stopped by my room to drop off a copy of the performance for me to hear.

It brought back a few memories listening to that Russian-inspired arrangement. This was one of the pieces that the low brass section got to shine in a few spots. It's rare for a tuba to get a chance to throw down on some melody, so when they do they become passionately attached to that particular bit of music. Let's just say with the band director mentioned the name of the piece, I still remembered it. I was technically a woodwind, but the baritone saxophone pretty much always plays the low brass parts. In this recording I could actually make out my sax during the part where the tubas and baritones took center stage.

I was actually a fairly good high school musician. I wasn't going to earn any musical scholarships, but that was mainly because I was incredibly lazy. I never practiced, but I was a good enough sight reader and quick enough at picking up new parts that it didn't show. I also was really good at getting a good tone quality out of my instrument. I once got props from a college marching band player who said he'd never heard a saxophone player able to keep a concert quality tone while playing as loud as I did. Seriously, if I didn't hold back a little, you'd hear my lone saxophone drowning out the dozen-plus tubas marching next to me.

My only problem was that I was just a technical player. I could put feeling into what I was playing, but if it wasn't on the sheet music, I couldn't play it. What's worse is that I've never had any respect for technical virtuosity. Those cock rock guitarists who can play a whole lot of notes in a short period of time do nothing for me. I'd rather hear a slowly played piece with a lot of emotion and creativity that I would to just hear a lot of notes meant to impress with technical difficulty any day. I was able to play the hardest music my director set in front of me, but when asked to improvise and I floundered.

I always wished I had more creative ability in music, but I never found it. Because of this, I've never considered myself a musician. I've always been more of a musical technician.


Courtney said...

I took 12 years of piano lessons and I still can't play by ear. I think improvisation is a talent some people are just born with.

Mickey said...

Don't you have any photos of you in your band uniform you can share with us?

Julie said...

It's ok. I have no musical ability. I can still appreciate music, though, and the ability some people have to play well.