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In praise of band geeks

HootsMy middle school band director once bragged that before we started sixth grade, she influenced our lifelong personalities by helping us choose the instruments that we would play for the next three years. Trumpet players, she informed us, are all as loud as their horns and brag a lot. Clarinetists were labelled as good-natured, but not bright. Bassoonists, we were warned, are just plain evil.

Whether or not you buy the stereotypes, there’s no denying that joining band in sixth grade is a huge stepping stone in any kid’s life.

The responsibility to take care of an expensive instrument is huge, and when we watched the older students play, we couldn’t help but wonder if we would ever make it that far.

Armed with our clarinets, trombones and bassoons, we started with the basics. Everyone remembers playing “Hot Cross Buns” for the first time. Over the years we started tackling more exciting pieces; from “Party Rock Anthem” to “The Lion King Suite,” our band music was rarely boring.

Band class became a release. We’d finish math class and sprint through the halls to the band room, where we didn’t have to worry about fractions, or essays or the chemical makeup of sugar. It gave us a whole new set of “worries” to focus on, but somehow they never seemed like worries.

“Are you breathing right?” “Do we need to relearn how to sit?” Skills that all sixth-graders thought they had in the bag became something we worked on every day. Longest note contests, embouchure exercises and daily stretches were all just part of the band class routine.

Band taught us that nothing in life is one-dimensional, and that you can’t start tearing through Bach’s symphonies if you don’t know which end of the trumpet to blow into. It also showed us that our hard work pays off, when we took first place in a Seattle competition as eighth-graders.

Will all of us grow up to be musicians? I doubt it. That’s not really the point of middle school or high school band.

So few of us will find careers in music, and you might ask what there is to gain from spending hours every week with an instrument.

It’s because we love it. Even if we don’t always feel like practicing, none of us can imagine life without band. Instruments are like hands, or feet. We don’t even notice they’re there half the time, just because they have become part of our normal.

Although the majority of us will pursue careers in other fields, only a very small minority of us will quit playing altogether. We’ll meet up and form our own bands, take lessons in college and one day we might even pull down the ol’ instrument case to teach our own sixth-graders which end to blow into.

Signing up for middle school band might have seemed like a small decision, but for those of us who have stuck with it, it has become a lifestyle. Over the years, we’ve learned how to practice for a concert, we’ve learned how to listen to each other and lose our individual noises in the unified band tone.

We’ve learned that no one can cover all the parts, but that together we can fill the room with sound.

Beth Hoots will be a sophomore at West Linn High School. She submitted this sample column as part of her application to be a student columnist for the Tidings during the upcoming school year.



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