It was 39 years ago that I was a freshman in our high school symphonic band. It was that year the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky catapulted me to the first seat in the first section of flutes, after having to play it for our chair placements. It was half way through the year, and I previously held the first flute, third chair position. Being seated first meant that I performed better than anyone else in my section on my scales and on this most difficult piece of music – we had the full score, not a watered down version. I had played the piece with few errors for my band director and hence was sitting in front of sophomores, juniors, and seniors, leading the section. I remember thinking, “am I ready for this?” Playing the piece was exhilarating, exhausting, and challenging but oh, so worth it. Each time we finished, whether in rehearsal or concert, a sense of pride and accomplishment overwhelmed me. Here is a link to a version I found on You Tube.
The memory of band and this piece of music came flooding back to me last night as I watched the PBS special, “A Capitol Fourth”. I do not think the piece was played particularly well, nor did they spend twenty minutes of the broadcast playing it. But still, my love for music runs deep. At one point, in late middle school, I considered being a musician but that idea vanished from my head after the above experience, and others, that showed me the politics and stress of chair seating in bands and orchestras. A girl I knew, and played flute with for years, simply wanted it more. “It” refers to leading the section. I do believe she went on to be a music teacher. And I, being a shy introverted 15-year-old, let her have it. I never sat first flute, first chair again. I simply did not want to. I made sure that I had mistakes on my piece in future auditions!
This revelation did not dampen my love for music nor the importance it has played in my life. As a flautist, I enjoyed being able to play the melody in most pieces. As a piccolo-player, I was challenged and enthused to play the fast paced Sousa marches we all know. I love them all. I have played most of them. Among my favorites are The Washington Post, Stars and Stripes Forever, & Semper Fidelis. These rousing renditions can take me back through time to the streets of a parade or a field show routine under the Friday Night Lights.
I played in marching band, symphonic band, and fireman’s band. I played solos, duets, and even quartets (known today, as a flute choir, most probably). Music was, and is, part of who I am. My grandfather and mother, both, were musicians as youth, played clarinet, guitar, and piano. It seems cliché, but music fills my soul. I have been known to get choked up while singing hymns in church, shed a tear during a high school band concert, or sing a show tune while paddling a canoe – as I did just this past Sunday night.
I can and do appreciate the talent and skill of great artists. Music is a language all its own. Through artists and composers such as Beethoven, Aaron Copeland, Benny Goodman, Kenny G, Vince Gill, and Brian Setzer, who not only play the instruments but also write the language, we are unified as humans.
It was both enjoyable and disappointing to hear such a memorable piece of music last night on a national broadcast. The 1812 Overture is familiar to many and played at many National occasions. The sounds of the composition brought me right back to sitting in that first chair, first flute seat and memories of how much I loved being a band member. Music is an experience that stays with you for life.