Thursday, November 1, 2012

Musically Inclined

Tomorrow night, against my better judgment, I am going to my high school band reunion. It promises to be a thrilling evening, the highlight of which is marching in the half-time show of a New Braunfels High School football game with band alumni from all of the 80 years of the NBHS Mighty Unicorn Band. (If there is actually anyone there from 80 years ago, I will be astonished.) Anyway, my dad, my sister, and two aunts will all be there with me and other Unicorns to relive the glory days of Friday night football games wearing dorky high-waisted pants and going nuts (i.e. playing "Hey, Baby") every time the Unicorns managed to get their hands on the ball.

I am (understandably?) nervous about what tomorrow will hold. Not only will I have the chance to see people that I haven't seen in 15 years, I will also be trying to play the cymbals** during the NBHS fight song with my new ear. So, maybe at this point you are wondering what business I had playing in the high school band.

Probably not much. But I did it anyway. In the sixth grade, I signed up for band and was assigned to play clarinet. At some point halfway through middle school, my band director decided to switch me to the contrabass clarinet, which is the bassiest of the clarinet family and a beast of a woodwind. This is what I played for the rest of middle school and all through high school. No one else played the contrabass clarinet, so I always got to be first chair. At the risk of sounding cocky, I think I was pretty good at it, too.

It was about as ideal an instrument as someone with hearing loss could play. The range of notes it could play were all audible (inaudible instruments=flute and oboe), and pretty much all that was required to play the right note was to get the fingering correct (brass instruments require a lot more lipwork and a keen ear to get the note right). I'm oversimplifying a bit, since there was still a lot of work on getting pitch and technique right. For whatever reason, it didn't ever seem unusual to me that I would be playing a musical instrument, when the odds were seemingly stacked against me.

When I was in the fifth grade, my parents decided that all of us kids should start piano lessons. My brother and my sister both have a knack for music and rhythm, and I guess Mom and Dad didn't want me to feel left out. So, I took a lot of piano lessons up until my senior year of high school. Even with all of the work that went into playing the piano, I never felt terribly comfortable performing. I always had stage fright, along with a fear that I would play wrong notes and not know it while it was painfully obvious to the audience.

Playing the piano was a challenge because anything other than a major chord sounded dissonant to me. Even with as much practice and ear training as my poor teacher could inflict on me, telling a wrong note apart from a complex chord was nearly impossible. The intricacies of, say, a Chopin composition were utterly lost on me. There was just too much going on for my brain and my ears to process.

I remember one particularly frustrating lesson with my teacher Mrs. Wilson. She had her students work on musical theory and ear training, and she could tell that I was having a hard time. I think that she felt bad for me. She looked a little bit teary-eyed and said something to the effect of, "Even if you think that you can't hear what's going on, I can tell that you feel something because you get such beautiful tone out of the piano when you play." It was very kind of her to say something so encouraging.

The point of all this is that somehow, with a lot of hard work, music became a little part of my life. I am hopeful that somehow that training forged some neural networks that will come in handy sooner rather than later. And here's hoping that I can hold my own tomorrow night.

** Because the contrabass clarinet is unwieldy and difficult to march with, I played in the Pit (marimbas, xylophones, bells, etc.) during marching band. For parades and the fight song, I played cymbals. That's what I expect to play tomorrow night.

1 comment:

  1. i didn't know you played the piano! good luck with the cymbals! we're rooting for you!