The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

October 18, 2011

And the band played on ... right into the next generation

The Daily Star

---- — In what may later turn out to have been a fit of self-preservation, my brain repeatedly decided to forget that band starts in fourth grade.

Despite the number of times the Diva mentioned it, which was at least a billion times, and the number of pieces of paper that came home describing it, I couldn’t make the fact stick in my head.

The fault is, of course, entirely mine. While, intellectually, I want her to play an instrument because it’s good for a growing (and stagnating, like mine) brain to learn about music, I have practical concerns.

The first of these stems from a beginning trumpeter who lives in a house near ours, who spent the bulk of the summer practicing with his windows open. Not to go all Andy Rooney crankypants on those who read this column, but trumpet practice can start to wear on your nerves after the first 10 minutes, especially when said practicer really needs the practice.

And, yes, I can endure. And, no, I don’t begrudge the neighbor kid the opportunity. I am, however, looking forward to fall, when a greater percentage of the street’s windows will be closed.

The second concern stems from the Diva’s inability to practice an instrument _ we’ve already been down this road a little bit with a guitar _ without endless buckets of nagging from the adults in the house. I’ve made it clear that with a clarinet comes great responsibility. This time around, it’s up to her to practice. If that doesn’t happen, then the clarinet goes back to the rental company.

It’s also entirely possible that I’m projecting my own instrument inadequacies onto those around me. I was a lousy fourth-grade band student.

My band career started well. Each kid in the fourth grade was trooped down to our elementary school cafetorium to hear all about the wonders of band. Each of us was allowed to try each instrument there. I settled on clarinet, mostly because I couldn’t get the hang of the flute and the saxophone was too heavy.

One of my uncles, the one who happened to be a music teacher at the time, was thrilled that I had chosen an instrument with as rich and storied a past as the clarinet. He waxed rhapsodic about Benny Goodman. We listened to Artie Shaw and Woody Herman.

It was fun to have something to bond over, granted, but I really didn’t dig what my uncle was laying down, mostly because I was nine and just entering my Thriller and Duran Duran phase. Neither of those popular music products featured much in the way of woodwinds. Indeed, they didn’t really feature much in the way of actual instruments.

But I did practice nightly as I’d been told all through my fourth-grade year, lugging it from school to home no matter what the weather. Yes, I did walk about a mile to school, in hip-deep snow, uphill both ways.

I kept it up in fifth grade, too, even going so far as to take private lessons on the weekends. Even now, 30 years later, I can still call up the tactile memory of the instrument’s weight on my right thumb. I can’t say that I enjoyed playing, really, just that it felt like what I ought to do.

For reasons that remain unclear _ although I suspect puberty and my parents’ divorce had something to do with it _ toward the end of fifth grade, I just stopped practicing. Quickly, all of the other grade school clarinetists zipped past me. By middle school, one other band slacker and I competed for the last chair in the clarinet section. If you can call complete indifference about which one of us was the worst, “competition.”

I want to say that I officially quit playing sometime in eighth grade but I’m not sure that I ever did officially quit. I know that I stopped going to band practice around then, which counts, I guess. And, no, I’ve never woken up one morning with an unquenchable desire to play “Stars and Stripes Forever,” one of the few songs I mastered on the clarinet.

Like any human parent, I keep wanting to project my feelings about the clarinet onto the Diva.

I know that she is not me. Her childhood has been different from mine. Therefore it would be silly to expect that she wants to join fourth-grade band for the same reasons that I did, which revolved largely around peer pressure and wanting to please my parents, who had enough problems of their own.

And, yet, even as I fill out the rental agreement for her instrument, my chest starts to tighten up a little bit. My rational mind knows that this is silly. Still, here we are.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of “Sweater Quest,” last year. Her columns can be found at