|These are the faces of community band. Study them well. (NOTE: This is not my band!)|
Imagine a little kid, maybe 9 or 10, coming home from band practice all excited because he's able to play a vaguely recognizable rendition of "Frosty the Snowman" on the cornet. Adorable, right? Now imagine that same little kid grown into a balding, jowly 50-year-old man. Each week, he lugs his cornet case to a rehearsal space, probably a high school band room or some similarly utilitarian locale, to practice playing a much fancier rendition of "Frosty the Snowman" with 40 or 50 people like himself. Not so adorable anymore.
|The Bizarro World|
|Sousa: My taskmaster|
Truth be told, these community band folks are often highly eccentric, but not necessarily in a loveable, endearing way. They can be pretentious, pompous, and prickly. They can be highly judgmental, especially towards someone who has mangled a solo during a concert. (I've mangled a few in my time and harbor a deep grudge against composer Gustav Holst for writing lengthy, exposed euphonium parts into his suites.) They argue over who gets solos or who sits next to whom. Some have such poor social skills that they make me look Hugh Hefner in comparison. At best, they are over-aged nerds who exchange terrible, corny jokes and lean in too close while they yammer on like Trekkies having a "Kirk versus Picard" debate. I have met a few well-adjusted people in my community band, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Then, of course, there are the conductors. Some can be terrors, others are more mild, but they're all insane to one degree or another. Occasionally, you will see band teachers in movies who love music deeply and make playing music seem like great fun. The hell it is! It's a lot of damned work! As a neurotic person, it is sometimes difficult to be around other neurotic people. But I keep doing it, week after week. There is one definite perk: when the band truly coalesces and plays as a unified organism, the sound can be magnificent. Sometimes, I'll stop playing just to soak it in. There's no better seat in the house.
I'll end this piece with some actual (shaky) footage of my community band performing a medley of songs from Mary Poppins. This appears to have been at a high school auditorium. I have no memory of this particular concert, but I remember that the Poppins medley was terribly complicated and difficult, much more than you'd guess from hearing it. You can't see me, of course, but I'm way in the back and I'm probably nervous as hell about getting through this song. This medley runs about 10 minutes, which means that the sheet music involves multiple page turns. Oh, god, if you're not a musician, you don't know about the potential terror of turning pages during a performance.
P.S. - This post has been percolating in my brain for years, but I was finally inspired to write it by an incident at rehearsal last night. I was sitting in the third row of the band, and there was an older lady sitting behind me who kept complaining that I was blocking her view. She mentioned this aloud to the entire band during rehearsal, despite the fact that we'd both gotten to the band room early and had plenty of time to adjust our chairs in advance. Something seemed off about the woman from the beginning of the night. She was fixated, for instance, on removing any empty chairs so that they would not be in her way. After rehearsal was over, I was making my way toward the exit and came close to treading upon her instrument stand. I apologized and went the other way. She pursued me and lectured me about how precarious the stand was. I agreed and got the hell out of there. There was a look in her eyes, dear reader. It was detachment or madness or something I could not identify. I tried to be as polite and cooperative as possible. Whether my meds enabled me to do this, I cannot say. Under normal circumstances, I would probably have been just as polite but would have been seething with barely-concealed rage.