Sunday, May 1, 2011

Why I Loved Being a Band Geek

As I sat in the audience at my daughter's handbell concert, the third one of the year, I couldn't help but say a silent thank you to my own mom and dad who faithfully attended my many band and choir concerts.

My music experience began in 2nd grade - taking piano lessons from Mrs. Vanden Bosch. In 5th grade, I joined the Wolcott Jr. High band pictured above. I am the one not dressed in uniform in the first row, second from the left. Our band director, Mr. Pitts, was an older balding man who wore short sleeve cotton shirts and frequently smoothed down his unrully white wiry hair. Mr. Pitts would patiently lead our beginning band as we squawked and squeaked through the notes. Shaking his head in despair, he would play the song for us on his upright piano. He would then raise his baton back to our 5th grade band, begging us to play anything that resembled the correct tune.

"Marching to Pretoria" was Mr. Pitts favorite song. We played it again and again while marching back and forth on a road next to the town's limestone quarry -- Thornton's only claim to fame. My classmate Paul Larson was probably the best musician in our straggly group - but he played the sousaphone, so his musical finesse was often under appreciated.

I joined the Wolcott choir as well, even though I sang in monotone. My parents, in an act of great pity, signed me up for private voice lessons where the teacher had me belt out Broadway show tunes and practice correct breathing. I remember exhaling slowly directly into a lit candle flame and trying not to make it waiver.

I wasn't a bad musician, but I certainly wasn't a great one either. Nevertheless, we were encouraged to participate in state music contests - where I both sang and played the flute. I am eternally thankful that my vocal rendition of "Edelweiss" was never recorded for posterity.

The pinnacle of my musical career was in high school where I was in the Thornwood Thunderbirds marching band and symphonic orchestra. I experienced the thrill and power of high stepping onto a football field at half time and marching down the Walt Disney World main street during the electric parade in full regalia. It was as close to royal as I have ever felt, participating in something so much bigger than myself or any sound that could come out of one silver flute. I was a member of something significant. I was in band.

My daugher has had a wonderful time as a member of the Clark Handbell Choir. Next year, they are cutting bell choir due to budget constraints. I am sorry about that. I think that most musical opportunities will stay available as extra curricular, after school activities. I hope she continues to be a part of an ensemble.

Band and choir groups aren't just about learning to play the flute or the oboe or the tuba. They are about discipline and growth. They are about seeing yourself struggle to make a sound in the 5th grade choir led by Mr. Pitts and then smiling as you march down Main Street making beautiful music. Music groups are about friendships that happen as a result of being on a team, from being a part of something bigger than any one person.

I am thankful for the teachers who listened to my bad music and who had the patience to help me improve. And, I am thankful to my mom and dad who encouraged me to take a chance, to learn piano, to sing on key, and to realize that I too could make beautiful music for all to hear.
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