Dr. Menace

October 28, 2008
By
A tribe of awkward, pimpled adolescents swarmed around a bright pink piece of
paper that was taped to the wall. It held our fate for that sweltering summer week of
2005—band camp audition results. Each camper was assigned to a group, separated into
levels 1 through 4. Sweat tickled my forehead as I anxiously stood on my tip toes trying
to see over their heads and find my name on the paper. There it was, and next to it was... Group 4.
My jaw involuntarily dropped. I had made a few nervous flubs in my audition piece and
was convinced that I would be playing with people half my size.
And in some sense, I wished I had been playing with people half my size. The
rumors I had heard about Group 4 were enough to make Stephen King have goose
bumps. One Group 4 veteran animatedly informed me that they played level 6 pieces—
the most difficult there is, with impossibly complex rhythms, every note in the chromatic
scale, and tonguing that could make you mute for weeks. I was petrified; rehearsal
started in a matter of minutes. I cracked my knuckles and prepared for the worst.
I arrived a few minutes early to the rehearsal stage. I sat in my assigned seat with
my sweaty, trembling hands clutching my flute, waiting for the seats to fill. The buzz of
conversation made a slow crescendo as more musicians took their seats. Then there was
a sudden hush. A huge and intimidating man theatrically swept away the curtain from the
side of the stage. My first observation was that he wordlessly demanded a profound
respect. He sauntered up to the conductor’s platform with confident and deliberate steps,
and slowly laid out the scores. “Good afternoon. I am Dr. Menace,” he said in a thick
Mexican accent. His black eyes then met mine, and I felt faintly nauseous. He was
indescribably frightening. And his last name was Menace. Which was appropriate.
“You will each find a folder under your chair. In it is the music from Star Wars. Do not
complain that you have played it before, because you have not. It is the original John
Williams score, level 6, and will be a tremendous challenge to you all. Now, the
beginning of the first movement.” And with that, the most grueling and satisfying
musical experience of all my years as a flutist commenced.
It’s hard to express what happened to me at that first rehearsal. Preceding it,
flute was a hobby. I had gone to band camp because my mom signed me up. I practiced
with an empty sense of duty; only because I had to. Following it, flute was an
infatuation. I was and am smitten with every aspect of it. Something made music a
necessity for me. Maybe it was the horrifying Dr. Menace and his brilliant conducting, or
maybe it was the triple tonguing in Star Wars. I rediscovered how to listen, and how to
respect each note in its own significance in any given piece.
And on the last day of camp, I discovered that I had misheard Dr. Menace on that
first day. His real name was Dr. Jiménez. And he didn’t seem so scary anymore.





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