Competition and Cooperation

By , San Diego, CA
I can still remember the melodies we played that March day. There we sat, a middle school band from San Diego, playing in a national competition against high schools. Still, we were there together to make music for others to enjoy and to review.

I was a part of the Select Ensemble, a group of band students more dedicated than the rest. We came to Chicago to perform an once-in-a-lifetime event: playing in a national competition of school bands. At the time, we roamed throughout our testing area: Chicago Symphony Hall. While I placed my instrument case, I watched my group and noticed the determination to succeed along with excitement, just like the singing on the bus-ride to here. After two-years as a member, I knew how well we could perform, but this was the time for us to do our best and not make any mistakes. Consequently, I felt the air ice up as conversations sped up, which mirrored the speed of our running thoughts. Others started humming our songs again, trying to remember any last-minute issues. Those activities all ended when we saw a returning competitor, an orchestra; a sense of relief and happiness shone from their faces. As a result, that lessened my fear of horrible mistakes. We saw them earlier: they were as anxious as we were then. Nevertheless, the event had one other meaning: notification of our imminent performance.

Everyone went back to their cases, retrieved their instruments and music, and crowded around our conductor, Mr. P. He announced, "Guys, I can't tell how proud I am. Now let's go and do our best!" The whole room shook with excitement as everyone chanted a response. All of us followed Mr. P, passing through hallways filled with the noise of energized children. Through a stage door, everyone sat onto chairs and prepared music scores and instrument. This was the last rehearsal before the performance; solving any last minute issues held priority. Pleasant melodies sang out in that room, even though we rushed through them. Notably, not many corrections were necessary after a quick run-through. Therefore, all that was left to do was the performing itself. Not a moment too soon, the announcer came back and led us to our goal: the performance.

A golden floor acted as stage while sunny lights shone from the ceiling. Judges waited on the balcony, readying their pencils and recorders, while a crowd sat in the stage front, cheering at us. We dispersed to our assigned areas as shaky as the way we arrived. While we moved in, the judges watched closely at our demeanor: grading included a form and conduct section. We would never want to lose that point so easily. Mr. P was at the front, helping the woodwinds while the rest of the band readied for the beginning, which would not take long.

The raise of a baton, the readying of the instruments happened instantaneously. Mouth on my mouthpiece, I prepared with the rest of my group. As the baton fell, the performance began in unison. As trumpet-player, I shared the main melodies with the rest of the players. Our melodies flew to the woodwinds and percussion, all as if we were one large instrument with many voices. The low brass and percussion set the depth, woodwinds detailed our songs with their precision, and the rest of the brass, including me, directed movement and style with our brightness and intensity. The songs we practiced gave wide range of emotions that utilized all the sounds we made. The military march brought order and excitement, the hymn adaptation showed deep feelings of fulfillment and discord, and a modern piece painted a picture of nature and its varying facets. The next thing I knew: we just finished playing in front of a national competition. I thought at the time that we performed well: complete control of all the musical styles. Every-one's anxiety had faded away as we fell into the rhythms of the music, just like all the group rehearsals we had done back home.

Afterwards, a short but excruciating wait began. The air regained its frostiness as whispers of criticism and fears of failure flew everywhere. I myself was not too worried; we gave all we could. Not everyone thought the ideas of failure for a different reason: a select few were in the honor band, waiting to play their repertoire. In their absence, a parent notified us of the results: first place! In fact, the first time this competition ever had a middle school winner. Accordingly, the room exploded with excitement as students jumped off the walls and floor. After two years of effort, we won a prestigious festival against other great-performing schools. Our group was just a middle-school group of students with a passion for music and extra time. As a reward, we performed the encore performance in front of our competitors, playing the same melodies as before.

After the trip, the group disbanded for the year. Some stayed after school to play with the orchestra while the rest went back into our daily routines. However, we all knew we had done something special: as a diverse group, we united to make the impossible happen. I never felt the same way about working with people because of this event: a group, of all types, can help one achieve great things, better than what an individual could ever do. This idea is as clear to me as the sound of the melodies even now, and has lead me to work with others more.





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