Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Story of a Former Band Geek

Many people have told me that they wish they'd never walked away from an instrument they once learned to play. "I never should have stopped trying to learn how to play the piano," or "Being a member of the marching band was one of the best experiences of my life," they tell me. What's your story?

I don't think my story is typical of any music student. My first notes on a piano were at a young age, perhaps three or four. My oldest female cousin and an aunt were both pianists, so they'd sit me down and show me a few things every time I saw them. Mom finally enrolled me in piano lessons in 2nd grade at a music conservatory. Four years later, I had graduated into sheet music and no longer needed a teacher. I started playing the flute in 5th grade, and I picked up my first alto sax in 7th grade. In 8th grade, I tried out to be the drum major. My band director flat out told me I'd never make a good drum major, that I should never lead a band.

*Note: a drum major does not play the drums. They are the people in front directing or leading the band on a field or in a parade. Sometimes they carry batons or a mace and have a wonky plume in their hat. Drum Majors keep the beat (contrary to what percussionists think), and they do not play the drums.

In 9th grade, I had a hard time fitting in with the band. I went from being the most accomplished flute player to being next-to-last chair in the transition to high school. Learning to march on a field was one of the hardest things I've done, but within two weeks, I had proven myself to be a most capable marcher and musician. People quickly nicknamed me "Noreen Jr." since one of the best musicians and marchers at my high school before me was named Noreen. In the spring, I tried out to be the junior drum major, which is usually reserved for sophomores-to-juniors. A girl one year ahead of me narrowly beat me for the title. Undaunted, I worked even harder. I snagged up a few other senior positions in the band through my sophomore year, including music librarian, uniform manager, and even 1st chair flute. By the next spring, I had studied, lived, breathed, ate, slept, and geeked nothing but band. I once again tried out for drum major, the only senior position I did not hold, and not surprisingly (to me), I earned the title. The moment I was named drum major will have to be another "Memorable Moment" post another day.

From that day my sophomore year to the end of my senior year, I directed the band. Or, at least I though I did... the band teacher was a heavy-set, middle-aged Mormon with a quick temper who didn't believe women should have leading roles. I tried to organize fundraisers, tried to get people more active in making decisions in the band, tried to boost morale, tried just about everything to make the band better. The students weren't on board, and my director wasn't on board, so my work was for nothing. Every year we planned a big trip to San Francisco or Seattle or LA or... the list of destinations never mattered since the director never followed through on his plans. He would sit in his office and play chess on the computer while I tried to direct songs. Nevertheless, in the two years I spent as drum major, our scores consistently increased in competitions, and in the end, we took our scores up over twenty points even though we lost half our members. That kind of success is unrivaled before or after our band in the history of our competition circuit.

As time wore on, I became more and more frustrated and depressed as a music student. The piano was separate and still brought me great joy, but playing the flute or directing became a chore. Don't get me wrong, some of my best memories are on a football field, wading through inches of frozen mud, straightening ranks... but the shine has tarnished.

Being a band geek was rough. I didn't have many friends (both due to my lack of social skills of any kind in high school and my status as the ultra-geek), and I got teased a bunch for being in band. I spent a lot of time in the band room, so I didn't get much chance to even break away from my circle of friends there. Band made me very happy, but it also contributed significantly to my teenage depression.

When I left high school at graduation, I also walked away from the band. I walked away from most of those friends, from competition, from the work, from the fun. OSU has a marching band and several different symphonic bands, but I had nothing to do with them. Some people regret discontinuing their instrument, but I haven't looked back. I still play the piano often, and that passion rarely flags... the piano is my instrument, a part of me. I don't look back on my time in the band with regret as much as disappointment.

I never knew what the word "bittersweet" meant until I realized all of this. Now I know.


whit-o-roni said...

i'm right there with ya, sis. i played my pride and joy for 8 years... and one day, it ended. i have not even put my clarinet together since graduation day. i do miss it, but the joy is gone...

i know how you feel. it was tough... i was never as good of a drum major as you... and it was much tougher when no one listened. unfortunately, once you left, so did anyone that cared. i tried to pick up the pieces, but there were just so many...

sometimes i feel like i have failed. i thought that music (band) would be my life forever. and what a distant memory it has become.

isn't it funny how things change and you don't even realize you've lost something until it is gone?

Jaggy said...

isn't it funny how things change and you don't even realize you've lost something until it is gone?

I think you have the start of an amazingly insightful blog post there, sis.

You didn't fail--your directors were WAY better than mine, and you got to do some way more awesome things than I did.

And I seem to remember someone being a great DM in 8th grade. :) You rocked it before I did, and that's pretty sweet. I'm so proud of you!

Jeff W said...

It's too bad that there weren't more people as interested in the band experience as you guys were.

Thartill said...

Whoa! Looks like the "M" Gals will go down as the band kingpins at Leb-un-nun High!

BTW How are you 2 feeling today?

Mr and Mrs. M leave and all hell breaks loose...

Jaggy said...

We were not kingpins as much as uber-band-geeks. People respect kingpins, and we were anything but respected as drum majors.

At least you're getting the pronunciation better, TH. :)

*UPDATE* I'm still not doing very well. My sister and I went out for lunch, but I'm sure she was just trying to kill me with her driving. The weather here is absolutely perfect today, and every Joe and Jane is out tanning their ultra-white self -- while snarling up traffic in the process. She's doing fine, but I just want to lay down and recover from last night.

Mom of Three said...

I played the flute for six years, the piccolo for three, and then it was over. Since then, I purchased a violin which is sitting next to me, so I could perhaps pick it up again (since fourth grade was the last time I played). I need to play an instrument, even badly is fine.