Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Worrying about the music

This coming Tuesday night is our community band’s first concert of the season, and as usual I’m worried, not about the band’s performance, but about my ability to contribute.

Band started this fall two weeks after I fell and broke my finger at the end of August. I missed the first three rehearsals because my hand was still in a splint. And even now, though my fingers are free to move, they are swollen and sluggish.

Or maybe that’s my brain.

The concert is all John Williams music – things he wrote for movies and other events. And though it’s been arranged by people to make it work for a concert band, it’s still hard. At least for me. He likes to use different meters and key signatures and switch stuff up. A lot.

Tonight, the night before our dress rehearsal tomorrow, I was intent on going through every one of the ten pieces of music, playing along with groups I found on YouTube who were playing the same arrangements.

I found this (you can opt out of the advertisement after about 4 seconds), for Schindler’s List – a high school group from a town about 30 miles south of me, the town I used to work in. This was recorded in 2014 and as I watched their faces I realized all of them would have graduated by now. I wonder where they are today, if they’re in college or out working somewhere.

I wonder if they are still playing music. I hope they are.

We will have a guest violinist on Tuesday night too. I think it will be a treat for our audience. And as for the other 9 pieces of music, well, I can play parts of all of them. We’ll sound just fine.

As long as I stay out of the way.

You sounded fine to me mama, but then I was sleeping.


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Musically smiling

My goodness the weeks are flying by now that summer’s abandoned us. But there’s still time to stop and recognize a smile or two.

I usually have plenty of things to smile about, so choosing just one each week can be hard. But this week it was obvious to me what my smile post should be about. And it’s music.

Those of you that know me know I fell last August and broke a finger on my right hand. Six weeks later I’m still doing physical therapy, and I see my hand doctor tomorrow morning for more ex-rays.

My physical therapist says there is progress, but it’s frustratingly hard for me to see. I do know the pain has lessened, almost down to zero some of the time, while other times it catches me by surprise as it throbs.

Still, I’m not in a cast or a splint any more. I do my exercises at home, attend my therapy sessions, try not to jam the finger into anything during the day and wrap it up to protect it at night.

And this past Tuesday I attended my first band rehearsal of this season in the hopes that I could play at least a little bit that night. Two hours flew by and my finger was never a problem except for a certain extended trill with a base note of C. Not going to lie, I won’t be playing that at the concert. But the rest of it? Oh yea, I’ll be there.

And that made me smile.


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Still smiling.

There have been plenty of things to smile about this week. A couple days with sunshine, my hands are healing, Katie is feeling a little bit better, I did my grocery shopping in the middle of a Thursday when most people have to work, (that one made me smile pretty wide) and beautiful morning light two days ago that made my world glow.

Oh yea, lots of things to smile about this week.

But the biggest smile happened for me and, I think, a whole lot of other people on Tuesday night during our Clarkston Community Band concert that we played in conjunction with the Dave Bennett Quartet.

We’ve been working on our portion of the concert for weeks – most of what we played Tuesday were movements from Shostakovitch’s Jazz Suite no. 2. Though the music isn’t jazz like we know it today, it was fun, kind of tongue in cheek, sometimes almost circus like.

And some of it went really really fast.

To break up all the Shostakovich we preformed Oblivion by Piazzolla, which was slower and featured our oboe player. She sounded wonderful, with a full, rich tone filled with mystery. (The Oblivion link above takes you to our full concert; Oblivian is # 3.)

And we were honored to accompany Dave and his jazz clarinet for two of his own pieces, Blood Moon (#6 in our concert at the Oblivion link above.) and Falling Sky (#7). During Blood Moon I actually stopped playing to watch him and be mesmerized.

I couldn’t help it.

We played the first half of the concert, (through #8 in the link above) and while the Quartet played the second half I got to sit out in the audience and just listen. To be honest I had to wipe away a tear during his rendition of Hallelujah (#12).

Magic.

I couldn’t stop smiling. Couldn’t stop clapping either, even though my hands, wrapped up so that I could play my own clarinet without further injury, didn’t make any sound. And even though it hurt to clap.

I just couldn’t help myself.

Winding up, the music and the evening.

What a night! The crowd gave us a standing ovation after our portion was complete. And they stood up and clapped and a few even danced through Dave Bennett’s entire last piece. I don’t think anyone (except maybe the quartet) wanted it to end.

It was fabulous.

Things got a bit crazy. In a good way.

I just got the link from our recording engineer and listened to a few of the pieces. OK, we weren’t always in tune and there were some things that went a bit awry. We’re a community band. But overall I’m so glad that I get to play music with this group.

And I’m extra grateful that I had the opportunity to hear Dave Bennett play his clarinet. Check out his website, see if he’s going to be playing near you. And if he is, make a point of going to hear him. He’s a young Benny Goodman with a bit of Jerry Lee Lewis breaking out on occasion.

Guaranteed to make you smile.

A full moon greeted us at the end of a magical evening.


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A musical smile

If you’re a Facebook friend of mine you know I’ve been working on a pesky Shostakovitch piece, Dance 1, for this Sunday’s community band concert. It’s hard. Not the key it’s arranged in, or, really, any particular part of it, done at a manageable tempo. But this one is presto, which translates to really really really fast. Please click on the link above, it’s a YouTube post of a group playing the same arrangement we’ll be doing, a three minute and eleven second thrill ride.

There’s a whole other page too.

I let this piece stress me out.

I’ve practiced many nights, starting at a slower tempo and working out difficult fingerings, going over and over passages until my fingers could remember what my eyes and brain couldn’t always coordinate. Every evening this past week I worked at a faster tempo.

I shouldn’t let playing music stress me. The whole idea behind a community band is to provide an opportunity for people to continue playing after school. People that aren’t professional musicians but who loved to play as young people have the chance to reconnect with others just like them, all working toward a common goal – make some music and have some fun.

In our band several generations are represented, and that’s special. We have people that some would label elderly and kids just getting their drivers licenses. This season I’m sitting between a tenth grade boy and a ninth grade girl. Sometimes the sheer drama of their lives overwhelms me. I’m not typically a lover of kids. Individually there have been some I really like, but mostly I think they’re best enjoyed at a healthy distance.

But here’s where this week’s smile comes from.

During a break.

Tuesday was the last rehearsal before our concert. Everyone was pretty worried about this particular piece. When the conductor asked us to pull out Dance 1 we all took a collective deep breath. And then we began. One hundred fifty beats per minute, and the music just soared. The runs climbed and dipped, the trills thrilled, the beat pulsed. And when we got to the end of page four the conductor put her baton down and sort of hugged herself.

And she smiled.

In the back row of clarinets there were quiet grins and a few high fives. Kids on both sides of me sat back satisfied. The ninth grader told me she liked sitting back there with us. I told her I liked having her next to me too. The tenth grader, who generally doesn’t engage with me actually looked at me and smiled.

Music brought a whole bunch of disparate people together. Music made us all work hard for a common goal. Music made us all, for that moment, beyond happy.

Music made us smile.


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Baseball, an American pastime and other music

Some of you know that I play in a Community Band. We’re a band made out of people who played in high school, maybe college too, often years, even decades ago. Some of us are retired, most of us are still working, and a few of us are still in school. We have whole families playing together, moms and dads and their kids all come to rehearsals once a week and play music.

That’s my favorite part.

Anyway, our last concert of this season is a week from last night. Like any group we’ve had our good and bad rehearsals, scheduling conflicts, missing music, lack of instrumentation. But we’ve overcome all of that, and with one last rehearsal next week we’ll be ready.

Which is good, because we’re playing Pastime, a Saute to Baseball by Jack Stamp. Give it a listen. At about two minutes you’ll hear the most difficult part, the fugue where the band is split up among several lines and if you’re not careful chaos reigns. Don’t worry, it all comes back together just before two and a half minutes. Still, the whole thing requires concentration and counting. There’s no guessing when to come in on this one.

So I’m practicing. Between now and next Wednesday I think I need to practice every night.

It turns out Pastime isn’t the only difficult piece. We’re also doing Sun Dance by Frank Ticheli. (You can skip the ad after a couple seconds. This is performed by Michigan State University, my undergrad alma mater, so I couldn’t resist. Plus they sound amazing!) It’s turning into a bit of a challenge too. I don’t understand why composers can’t keep the same time signature (the number of beats in a measure) for an entire piece. This is another one that requires concentration and counting. Listen, I think you’ll enjoy it!

But why is everything just so darn fast?

Wish us luck. I think it’s a cool thing, to play with other musicians from all sorts of backgrounds, to not give up our instruments when we graduate from school. If you used to play and haven’t touched your instrument for a few (or a lot) of years, think about joining a community band near you. Many of them don’t require auditions to join.

And don’t be nervous. OK, you’re going to be a little nervous on the first couple of nights. We all were. But you’ll find the other musicians are just happy to have you. We’re always looking for more people.

Trust me. What your brain has forgotten your fingers remember. It will all come back. Promise.

If you didn’t play, consider attending a community band concert. We’re always looking for audience members too. Mostly we ask our friends and families to attend, but it would be fun to look out and see a full house. Music always sounds better when the venue is packed. I bet you even know some of the people playing, and they’d be delighted to see you out there providing support. It’s a community thing, and we certainly could use a little community building these days.

Thanks for listening.