Conquering Mother Earth

In the beginning, everyone hated Mother Earth. Listening to recordings, we winced at the jarring chords, screeching high notes, and obscenely fast tempo. A 3/4 song conducted in one? No one had come across another composition quite so ridiculous. It didn’t help, of course, that the song had been selected by our student teacher, Brandon. We didn’t dislike the man; we even semi-affectionately renamed him Bransen. But he selected the song his first week on the job, when he had no credibility or respect from anyone. Mother Earth was his first chance to make a good impression, and he failed miserably.
As the weeks progressed, our school band began learning all sorts of different pieces. Fast, slow, lyrical, contemporary; we shared optimistic feelings about almost every song we played. But every time Bransen wrote “Mother Earth!” on the chalkboard, a collective groan rose throughout the band’s fifty-plus members. Rehearsing the song might have tolerable, had Bransen not insisted on practicing the same measures over and over and over again. I still remember the exact measures: eighty-four to ninety-one. Seven miserable measures, seven frantic downbeats, seven moments of tedium and frustration. We started playing the tune in September, and by March, I hated it so much that I simply refused to play it. I walked out during the rehearsals, claiming to “go to the bathroom,” or I would sit on the floor and text, or I would switch instruments with my friend Abby. Our conductor occasionally noticed this, but rarely said anything. I believe she emphasized with the band. Anyone would, if they had heard 84-91 as many times as we had.
In May, after an eternity of rehearsals, our band reached the state competition. We stood in a long line outside the auditorium, boys in their improperly-sized tuxedos and girls in various interpretations of “all black,” holding our instruments with trembling fingers. My mind flitted back to the speech one of our classmates had given only minutes earlier. “I’m very proud of every one of you,” he had said in an unusually sentimental gesture. “You have so much passion and enthusiasm. You have made band a very special part of our lives. Now we need to go in there and kick some a**. We need to play with one soul.” As our band took the stage, we prepared for our first and by far most difficult song. Our conductor had decided to play Mother Earth in this competition, believing that its complexities would garner points. I hurried to ready the xylophone, smiling at Bransen, who watched from the audience. Our conductor stepped on to the podium, and an immediate hush fell over the room. Smiling widely, she lifted her baton. Our band took an enormous collective breath and, channeling every ounce of technique and passion we had, began to play.
Our performance far surpassed anything else we had ever played. Music cascaded from the walls of the auditorium; cymbals crashed through rivers of legato and fortepiano, melodies dueled countermelodies with incredible speed and finesse. Measures 84-91 flew by, almost before we recognized them, and we dove headfirst into the next section. I remember our conductor’s hair flying out of her neat bun, attacking her face as she frantically flourished her baton, sweating under the harsh stage lights. She guided our band, our single soul, as we pulsed insanely towards the climatic finish. Three final screeching chords, and then silence.
The band looked around at each other, stunned, as the entire auditorium erupted into fervent applause. We knew we had won, knew it in our hearts and souls, although the results would not be officially determined for several hours. As we reveled in our triumph, the audience stood on its feet, washing us with waves of appreciation. Shocked at what we had accomplished, the band had no idea how to react. Slowly, we unfroze and broke into fifty identical grins. In the sweeping melodies and chaotic rhythms, we had united to become more than just a band. We had become one soul. We had defeated Mother Earth.





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