What is this? I’ve liked many things throughout the years. While some have fallen out of my attention, others remain firmly cemented in my memories and feelings. So, I’ve decided to start a mini-series where each week (hopefully), I pick something random that I like or have liked and discuss it, why I like it, and its impact on me. These things can be varied, and range from more trivial matters such as my favourite animal, to books, games, and movies I’ve liked, to topics that have shaped who I am as a person. The posts, accordingly, will vary in length.
In honor of yesterday, the 2018 UIL Area marching contests, my first Thing I Like will be “Band”. Anyone who knows me will know this is going to be a really long post.
Quick note ahead: I’ll talk more about my ensemble experiences, since “flute” is another candidate for this series and I’ll discuss my solo experiences with flute there.
I first joined band in middle school. I had already been playing piano for approximately 6 years at this point, and violin for a couple years. We considered band only because our school district did not (and still doesn’t) have an orchestra program - a fact that I eventually came to appreciate.
At first, I went in wanting to “play the drums”, thinking I could just go in and learn how to rock out on a drum set (it turns out those opportunities are quite rare in a concert band setting). I still clearly remember the day I went in to the middle school band hall, more than 10 years ago, to meet with the directors and try out different instruments. I remember being given a snare drum practice pad, with the metronome on, and being told to strike 8th notes out in rhythm. I remember dramatically failing at such a simple task. My directors likely thought “yet another student wanting to ‘play drums’, but doesn’t understand what percussion actually is”.
We could have left just then and there, but I remember my director turning to wind instruments, trying clarinet, saxophone, and flute mouthpieces (strangely, my directors never tried any brass instruments on me). My choice was made on a whim: my oldest sister had a flute at home from her time in band, so it’d be fun and convenient for me to play it as well. And thus began 7 wonderful years in band.
6th grade band was all about the basics: producing a sound on your head joint, playing Mary Had a Little Lamb on said head joint (which is disgusting in retrospect since to change pitches you would have to stick your finger inside the head joint, into all the spit), eventually learning to breathe properly and string phrases together. I still remember the first complete “solo” we learned as a 6th grade class, and how much I struggled taking a big enough breath to complete one of the hardest phrases: a whole measure of 8th notes.
In 7th grade, I made the Honors Band, the highest level middle school band. Coincidentally, the band had been invited to perform as the TMEA 3C Honor Band in February of that school year. Like most performances of the sort, our preparation was long and arduous, but I didn’t know any better - the stress of the directors, their strictness and intolerance for lack of preparation was the norm. But so was the pride and praise that came after every good performance. My favourite pieces from this school year would have to be Dublin Dances, our “flagship” piece at TMEA, and Green Bushes, a well known piece from Percy Grainger we played at UIL Concert and Sightreading Contest after TMEA.
At the end of the school year, we found out (on April Fools Day in fact) that we had been invited to the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic the following winter, another high-profile performance. My favourites from this year was once again our “flagship” piece, Dances of Innocence by Van Der Roost. I remember trying out piccolo for the solo in the middle, then quickly realizing I wasn’t cut out for that instrument. I remember going to a concert band contest at Six Flags (?) in the spring and taking home several trophies. I remember my director crying at the Spring Concert (as he often does ;P) when saying goodbye to us 8th graders. My time in middle school band gave to me the fundamentals of ensemble playing at one of the highest levels in the state. And that middle school band program is now renowned for being one of the best in the state, if not the country. To give perspective, since my visits to TMEA and Midwest, the program as gone back to each an additional 2 times, making it 6 extremely high-profile performances in 8 years. They’re absolutely insane!
One thing people often talked about in 8th grade band was whether they would continue going into high school. We heard scary stories of having to march and play outside in the elements, and I pictured old military style bands where we were forced to remain still at attention for long spans of time, and do dramatic chair-step marching.
My decision to remain in high school band, I had decided, would be dependent on one thing: I would stay only if I made it into the top band (Wind Ensemble) when auditioning. I like to imagine the shock my high school directors would feel if they ever found out this was the case :P.
That first fall of 2011, because I had expressed that I was iffy about continuing on in high school, I was actually placed in what was then called the “X-Box”. Put in a less-than-friendly manner, it was the group of people that were “benched” for the marching show. We still learned fundamentals and drill, but did not perform in the real show. I eventually came to realize this and came forward to the directors expressing my desire to perform. I remember my director telling me in his office to be patient, that my “time would come”. Eventually, someone in the trumpet section became ineligible due to grades, and I replaced them while marching an instrument that was not mine. I learned the drill of that spot for the entire show in one week, and my first performance I started in the wrong spot (look at the rightmost side of the field in the middle), miraculously recovering about a minute into the show and finishing mostly properly. It could’ve been a much bigger disaster than it was, looking back. This season introduced me to marching band as a whole, and it wasn’t really as bad as middle-school me thought, even if we didn’t achieve our goal of making the Texas State Marching Contest. I didn’t even know what state was until the seniors told us, the last time before 2011 we made state being 2008.
My second season was highlighted by me being given a piano part in the front ensemble, and later a marching flute spot. I essentially became a part of our wonderful drumline section for a season, even following them to their drumline-only contest at the end of the season.
My third season, (at which point quitting band was a ridiculous idea to me) I was selected to be a section leader for the flutes. This was an important year for our program, since we were again looking to make it to state. Now that I and others in my class understood what “state” actually was, as well as the highly-competitive programs we were up against, we also understood the magnitude of our undertaking. One thing I always like to recall this year is not just the awards, the 1st place at Area Finals over our in-district rivals, the bronze medal at State Finals, the almost-getting-into BOA San Antonio Finals, but also the struggles. I remember the times where we ran parts of the show over and over to iron out timing issues. I remember that one formation in the closer where the woodwinds needed to make their box look more like a box and less of a blob (Letter H in the music I believe?). I remember consecutive runs of the show’s ending to build endurance. I remember our director saying “you’re competing, even if you don’t see your competitors right now”. I remember him drawing on the board “good bands, great bands, and OMG bands”, and saying how we were looking to break into and establish ourselves in the “great band” category. The pride we felt that season as our efforts were recognized statewide still lingers today.
My fourth and final year was in many ways the most special. In the fall, there was a cautious and tense vibe in the air, since many were anxious whether we could top our success the previous year. Multiple times during the season, hearing “last year was better” was a common occurrence. Still, we pushed forward. I’ll defer my thoughts on my time as a leader to this prior post I’ve made. Eventually, we made program history again by appearing in the BOA San Antonio Finals for the first time. I’ll never forget the feeling of receiving a standing ovation in finals and the feeling of standing in a block at full retreat to stands filled to be brim with parents and fans, for the very first time in program history. And after that in concert band, there was our magical Midwest trip, which I defer to this post.
Marching band could have been just another extracurricular, but for me it was my life over these four years. Pretty much every living moment not spent on schoolwork was spent on either practicing flute or nerding out over our performances. To this day, I have not found something else to dedicate myself fully towards, though I’m confident that’ll happen someday. I remember the rainy rehearsals. I remember Chick-Fil-A day during band camp. I remember cramming into a bus and waving around glowsticks and singing. I remember the buzz of the lights in the Alamodome before we perform.
Now, as the 2018 vista ridge band looks for another shot at state finals and BOA SA finals, I give them my sincerest wishes of good luck. Their performance level far exceeds that of any of my years, and I look forward to seeing them make program history once more.