Saturday, March 02, 2013

I Miss Band

I imagine the school band is something like the school football team. Except in band you don't lose, ever. You have the camaraderie that comes from building something together, the satisfying sense that each member has a critical role in what is produced.
I played baritone, an instrument which scarcely exists outside of school bands (on this side of the Atlantic, anyway). Even in schools, baritones are increasingly being replaced with euphoniums, which  have a more mellifluous sound. I've tried, at various times, trumpet, trombone, and French horn. None of them felt very comfortable. Trumpet especially.

I have a friend who's a professional musician. Cornet and trumpet are his native instruments, and his ability, even in grade nine, was exceptional. I've always meant to ask him how he can constrict his throat to pinhole size, which is what (it feels like) you have to do to hit any note above middle C.

I got to be a fairly decent baritonist. Not a great one, by any means, but a pretty good one. That's largely because I was forever challenging myself to increase my range, tonguing technique, and musical agility. Probably the most difficult piece I played outside of band was the first movement of Haydn's trumpet concerto, which I set as a test piece for a recital. I got an A, as I recall, despite flubbing the high concert D-flat, the same note I'd nailed countless times in practice.

But band, though...

The school band I most remember had that trumpeter friend I mentioned in it, along with several other accomplished musicians. We were a very small group, as school bands go. There was one Kiwanis Festival I recall, wherein the adjudicator noted twice in his writeup that he couldn't hear the second and third trumpets. After looking up a few bars later and seeing only Craig, he wrote "I see why". What we lacked in numbers we made up for in overall talent. Good times were had by most. To this day I'm largely immune from sudden loud noises thanks to a couple of years of sitting practically on top of a drum set, the player of which rejoiced in creating sudden loud noises.

I missed out on the exotic band trips. The Oakridge band went to Nairobi, Kenya, two years before I attended; the Ingersoll District C.I. orchestra had trips to New York and Boston just before I arrived there. The extracurricular highlight of my time in band was a trip to Toronto. We performed at an elementary school and I will never forget the odd sensation I had looking out over the audience and realizing I and my bandmates were among very, very few people in that auditorium with white skin. A little of my naivete was lost in that moment as I found myself truly considering, for the first time in my life, what it might mean to be "other".

Most of the memories revolved around the music. There are no recordings out there from my years at Westminster--again, I missed out; the band did make a couple of vinyl albums a few years before I was there.  But YouTube is a virtual treasure trove...nearly every piece I played is on there somewhere. This is probably the piece I most enjoyed performing.

I'm living in the wrong part of the world to truly indulge my love of wind, and especially brass, music. In Britain, there are dozens, scores, perhaps hundreds of local bands, many of which have youth chapters, and the best of those bands can aspire to considerable acclaim and a modest fortune.

Here's one of the world's best euphonists playing 'Brilliante', a fantasy on 'Rule, Britannia' that blows my mind every time I listen to it:

Mead makes the high notes sound so effortless, and his tone is so pure...*sigh*

Just listening to the repertoire is happy-making. I can't imagine what playing it again would do for me.

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