Friday, January 07, 2011

Thirty Days of Music: Day Twenty-Six.

Day 26 -
A song that you can play on an instrument: Sonata No. 6, 3rd & 4th Movements by Vivaldi

(I played this on the bass clarinet, but I played the part the flute's playing...just, uh, not quite that fast.)

To say I was a bit of a band geek in high school is an understatement.

I hung out in the hallway by the band room before school every morning and spent all my study halls in there. I never missed a night of pep band unless I was doing a play or had something I couldn't get out of (even though I hated sports and don't think I hardly ever stayed in the gym or by the football field long enough to see the end of a game after we were done playing), and even came back for alumni pep bands over Christmas breaks after I'd graduated. I joined the jazz band (even though I really didn't give a crap about jazz). When other school clubs painted store windows along Main Street for the homecoming football game, me & my friends painted one rooting the band on, not the football team. I threw "office parties" in the band room on the stair where I unloaded my bass clarinet every day. And as far as I know, a ridiculous portrait me & my friend Emily had taken at Walmart in the mid-90s (in matching rainbow sweaters) is still hanging in our former band director's office.

I wasn't the geekiest band geek I knew, but still, I was a pretty big band geek.

And I wasn't the best musician in the world, either. I mean, I was a pretty decent bass clarinet player, in that I could get a good sound out of my instrument and didn't usually have much trouble mastering my parts. But I didn't have the technical abilities a lot of my friends had on their instruments, probably because most bass clarinet parts just aren't all that challenging so there weren't all that many occasions I had to rise to. (Not in the songs the average high school band's playing, anyway.) It's a lot of dut-dut-dut, as we used to say - bass lines. Quarter notes on the beat, like a tuba in an oompah band. Sure, there were busier parts in some songs, but most of the time it was me, the tuba player, and the bari sax player, all going dut-dut-dut.

Despite my critical self-assessment, when I was a sophomore my band director was convinced I was ready to tackle a Class A solo for the annual solo/ensemble music competition in our region. Solo/ensemble was in two phases; first, a "local" competition day (ours usually happened somewhere within an hour's radius of Ashland), and then, if you did a Class A piece and got a "starred 1st" (quite literally, a "1st" with a star drawn next to it on the results sheet), you went on to "state" (which, for us, was in Eau Claire, although I think other parts of the state were funneled to Madison, Milwaukee, etc.). I didn't think I was ready, but Mrs. H picked out a solo and encouraged me to go for it, so I did...with modest expectations.

The day of the local competition came - we all climbed on school buses, rode over to Washburn or Solon Springs or someplace like that, and then things got interesting. Most of us who got talked into doing one song wound up playing with other groups throughout the day - I was the only bass clarinetist at AHS for a couple of years, so I got roped into clarinet quartets and crap like that - so there was a lot of frenzied running from room to room, swapping out instruments (I was usually lugging a tenor sax with me all day, too, so I could honk away in the jazz band) and scurrying over to check the results as the hours went by. It was band geek heaven.

Well, the time came for me to play my song. I had taken to the first half of it right away (the 3rd movement) - it was low and slow and that was right up my alley. (Low notes are the whole point of a bass clarinet, aren't they?) And I was really good at playing that part. But the 4th movement...well, it was high. And fast. And years of dut-dut-dutting hadn't made my lazy fingers terribly nimble. I went in, did my best, and walked out figuring eh, it'd been fun, and the jazz band would probably get a starred 1st, so I'd get to go to Eau Claire either way.

I went on with my day, running from performance to performance, and didn't give the results board much thought until I'd finished my last song. Good news always shot through the halls pretty fast, anyway - yep, I heard the jazz band was going to state, along with a bunch of other stuff my friends were in, so I was set. As everything was winding down, and people were getting ready to load up the buses to head home, I went over to the boards and holy balls, I'd gotten a starred 1st.

To be honest, I really don't remember much about playing my song in Eau Claire - I think I got a 2nd there, or something like that. I was just so happy to have made it that far that by then, I didn't care what anyone thought of it.

I played solos in my junior and senior years, too, but never got another starred 1st. I didn't like the other songs as much as I liked the Vivaldi, and as I got further along in high school, I had more cluttering my plate (more theater stuff, yearbook, clubs & junk) so I didn't have quite as much time to devote to practicing as I did for the first one. As long as I was in a group that made it to Eau Claire, I was happy.

My bass clarinet is parked in my closet nowadays, and it doesn't get around much anymore. I played for a few semesters in college, until I got bored and put all my eggs in the English major basket. During my summers at home, I played with the city band until I moved to Montana, where me & Emily spent one summer toiling away in Helena's city band (it wasn't nearly as freewheelin' or fun as the one we'd grown up with in Ashland). When I moved back to Ashland, I joined the city band again, and even though I feel awkward being just about the only member who isn't a high schooler or a high school band teacher, I know bass clarinetists are few & far between, so I look at it as fulfilling my civic duty.

And when I sit down each summer with my instrument in my hands, holy balls, I still know that whole 3rd movement by heart. I think it took up the space in my brain where algebra was supposed to go, but oh well. I haven't needed algebra yet.

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