A student could start band in fifth grade when I was in grade school. I’m not sure why it was decided that I should be in the band, but the decision was made, and I followed along. At some point during the first quarter of school, we were invited to the gym to check out different instruments. They had percussion, brass, and woodwind instruments for us to choose from.
I had taken piano lessons for a couple of years and discovered that I’m not good with strict tempo. I had the requisite metronome, but I found that I didn’t like following its tic-toc. Mozart was a stickler for following the time, but Beethoven was more lenient. He would bend the tempo to create a more interesting composition. I really liked Beethoven. This knocked out the drums who are required to keep a steady beat no matter what the notes are doing.
My choices narrowed down to brass or woodwind. Trombones made individual notes by the placement of the slide and trumpets only had three buttons to create all the notes. I didn’t think that I could be that specific to get my slide in the right place every time nor could I make all the notes needed with just three buttons.
This left the woodwinds. In order to create noise from a flute, you must blow over a hole – much like blowing over a pop bottle to make a sound. The clarinet, however, had all these wonderful holes and stops to create all the tones a person would need to play music. In the end, I choose the clarinet.
Unfortunately, in the process of learning how to play the clarinet, I discovered that I have an extreme hatred of wet wood. The clarinet uses a reed (a thin piece of wood) to create the tones. I hated playing the stupid instrument. I had to suck on that reed to get it pliable enough to play and it would send chills down my spine every time.
When I was in high school, it was much easier. I still hated the wet wood of the reed, but we had marching band! The great thing about this was that I found that I didn’t actually have to play the clarinet while I was marching! Quite often, we would march in groups of five and I would volunteer to be the one to count the steps and the moves. The clarinetists on both sides of me could play their instruments while I counted steps and kept track of the moves we were supposed to be making. It was the high point of my career in band.
I found a couple of benefits to graduating from high school. I was able to have a greater choice in my field of study but, more importantly, I got to stop playing that miserable clarinet!
My brother is eight years younger than I and, when he went through the process of choosing an instrument, I was in my first year of college. For whatever reason, I was asked which instrument he should play. How would I know? I had made a lousy choice for myself and all I could think was – don’t choose the clarinet! I said that I always like the French horns, so the French horn was chosen. I’m so sorry for that, Rob! How did I know that it would take all the breath you had and then ask for more? Thankfully, Rob discovered a love for drums that he has taken with him even beyond college!
Choosing a band instrument can be a traumatic event! Don’t take it lightly!