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Reflections of a Musician MAG
Luguuuubrious. Make me cry. Sticky, syrupy. Molto Allegro. Now, sparkle! Sparkle! Pluck! Remember to watch! People, count, please. You know what? I want to see your lovely eyes looking up at me. Crescendo! No, no! We were taking that repeat. All right, all right. Let's take it from rehearsal B. B for Bach - I want a fuller sound, a fatter sound, a rounder sound - a richer sound. Watch the pitch, now, trumpets. Violas, you're not together. Oboes - sing through the upper register. Sing!"
So cries the conductor, so emphatic, so enthused. He waves and a glorious tonal blend accompanies his motion as though his fingers are pulling the sound from the air. He adjusts it with patterns of movement, sculpting music from the notes floating through the air. Whisking a short lock of dark hair from his sunny eyes, he doesn't miss a beat. The more his body moves, the more memorable his facial expression becomes, and the more lively the music. His voice rises above the song of his musicians and he guides them gently, firmly, perfecting their efforts.
"Please don't be timid. Hannah. That's your solo, play out! A little less strings, please, you're covering the woodwinds, and I like their volume. Now, woodwinds, remember to grow. By the end of the measure you should be fortissimo - that's extra loud! Tongue, brass, tongue! Excellent! Wow, I liked that! That was good! Now can we do it again? Let's take it from three before N. N as in mnemonic. Just a joke there, guys, don't look so glum. All right, now watch the upbeat for the tempo!"
A group of teens assembled on a stage, interpreting the great composers: Mozart, Beethoven and the more contemporary Copeland. No matter their nationality, the dynamics are always in Italian: dulce piano, crescendo, fortissimo. The sounds they represent are understood by all; music, after all, is the universal language.
"All right now, I'm giving you a 10-minute break. You can put away the Mozart; we'll be working on the Beethoven. Excellent job, guys. Wait, hold on a second. Just a reminder: sign up for performance evaluations! And turn in your parents' forms so we can start organizing the Spain trip! We're running out of time. All right, see you in 10 minutes!"
Bassoon: a distinctive reddish-brown tube of dark wood, coated with transparent gloss, from which silver keys protrude. Smooth to the touch, soothing to the ear. True, it's an unusual shape, but not as strange as some. Take the horns, for instance, or the tuba, the trombone, or for that matter, anything brassy.
"Okay, settle down, let's not waste time. Guys! The concertmaster is ready to tune. All right, now I want to start at Z in the third movement. Z for zebra. We're doing the backwards thing again where we start at the end. Bassoons, you guys are the bass here; you really need to play in tune so the flutes can tune to you. Put down the pancake key, it'll steady that C-sharp. That's better. Now celli, remember, good musicians value rests as much as notes, so come in on time, please."
Instruments, fingers, lungs and a conductor - they comprise an orchestra. How often have those keys been pressed, those strings stroked and plucked? Or the timpani brushed with flicks of their mallets? Nimble fingers, nimble minds are necessities.
"Excellent! You guys are sounding great! I can hear the passion! Now that's how you should sound."
Several weeks have passed since our season began, since I joined the group. Now we're approaching concert season, and every nuance, every flutter of the bow, every flick of the wrist, every brush of the tongue must be perfect. Our audiences don't come to hear mistakes.
When we tour Spain, the Spanish will instantly recognize incorrect rhythms and notes. They attend their children's concerts, as well as professional ones, as frequently as American parents. Instead of "soccer moms," they are "orchestra moms." We all speak the international language of music.
Preparations for our tour continue. We are excited to sightsee, meet
Spanish musicians our age, and perform. Saturday is our photo shoot; they're going to turn a black-and-white shot into posters. They'll put a Spanish caption beneath us, and hang the poster in Barcelona and Valencia to advertise the concerts. We'll each get a copy.
This tour also involves shopping. Although a favorite pastime under normal circumstances, shopping for concerts is traumatic. Our group requires formal, conservative all-black attire, which is problematic. The short notice before the photo shoot required stops at three stores on a Thursday evening, but I found a suitable outfit.
How far I have come since my first note blasted from a rented bassoon over half a decade ago. In fact, I remember people listening from the other end of a phone, asking whether that sound was a foghorn or a dying cow in the background. I remember when I didn't know what a reed was, much less a double reed. For that matter, I remember my first and only flute lesson, where the instructor announced I had a condition seen "only once in a blue moon." She believed my lips were the wrong shape to make a sound on her instrument. Those were the days when I had never heard of a bassoon.
I remember a time before I could play more than a few notes without my mouth growing tired. Before I understood the importance of practicing daily, before I cared whether my reed was plastic or wood, before I knew how to deem a reed excellent or old, before it made a difference. Back even before the countless beginner school bands, the All-City Band, back before District festivals and the Massachusetts Youth Wind Ensemble. Back before our international tour. My evolution as a musician has been a work in progress as I perfect the universal language.