I wanted to be in band for as long as I could remember. I wasn’t in piano lessons growing up and couldn’t wait until grade 7 when I could finally put down that recorder and pick up a “real” instrument.
When that fateful day arrived, everyone who wanted to join Beginner Band headed to the school on a Saturday morning for their introduction and to get their instrument. Grade 7 was where my elementary school went from having 30-40 kids in a grade to having 90-100, so that introductory morning was a little bit hectic.
Of course, not everyone wanted to be a band nerd, but there must have been 40 or 50 of us there that morning. (40 or 50 12-year olds that had to be sorted into sections and then instruments.)
If only they had the Hogwarts sorting hat to help — I wouldn’t be writing this story right now. Because, as we all know, the sorting hat takes your desire into consideration. So, even if you might make a good Slytherin, if you ask to be sorted into Gryffindor, you probably will be.
I was not sorted into the proverbial Gryffindor. I was sent directly to Slytherin.
Ok, ok, that is a bit extreme, but it didn’t feel like it at the time. To the best of my recollection (which tends to be quite accurate), they sorted us into our section (brasses versus woodwinds) by lining us up and getting us to try to make a sound using a trumpet mouthpiece or a clarinet mouthpiece. To this day I cannot make a clarinet make a sound. I could, however, make the trumpet mouthpiece make a sound. Unfortunately for me, I wanted to badly to play the flute, I had gone to the woodwind “trial” line first, so by the time I made it through the “brasses” line all the trumpets were spoken for and I was assigned a trombone.
What 12-year-old girl with her hopes set on a flute wants to play the trombone? I cannot answer that because I’ve never found one. But, it was what it was. I could make the trombone work and I was finally in band so what was I to do?
Answer: learn the trombone.
Aside from the obvious fact that a trombone is almost as far away from being a flute as possible (I think only a tuba could be further away), I really felt quite sad about this turn of events for several reasons.
The size. Carrying a flute case on the bus versus a trombone case? Come onnnnn.
The music. Flutes tend to play the melody. Trombones do not. And, in beginner band, you could go through an entire 3-minute song and have played 5 notes. Total.
The flute has set note keys. On the trombone, you play each note “around here” but, since it’s sliding up and down, it’s only guess work
The flute uses the treble clef, which is what we spent the bulk of our time learning and playing in elementary school (hello recorder!). The trombone uses the bass clef, which, sure, we learned but in the same way we “learned” the national anthem in French. I could sing right along when the words were in front of my face but, without them, all just seemed vaguely familiar.
So, in short, instead of a small, cute instrument that played the melody of songs and had sheet music in the format I was most accustomed to reading, I was given the huge, boring instrument without any set “keys,” and only playing about 8 notes per song. Admittedly, this did give me plenty of time to figure out what note came next while reading bass clef.
I know, I know. You are wondering how I ever survived. The struggle was real. Especially when one night as I was practicing my trombone fell apart in my hands. The soldering on the ancient instrument (obviously they beginner band did not get the highest quality instruments) had disintegrated. Fortunately, my father fixed it with a hose clamp. When I showed my band teacher what had happened, he seemed unconcerned and told me the hose clamp looked like it was working just fine.
From then on, I had to keep a screwdriver in my case for quick “on the go” hose clamp adjustments.
Band drama aside, my year went along well. I asked multiple times about maybe switching to the flute but was always told that there were no spare flutes and, since I was such a good trombone player, there was no need to switch. First of all, how can you tell by 8 notes per song that I am a good trombone player? And each of those notes were whole notes — it was pretty hard to screw up.
As the year came to an end, I inquired once again about switching to playing the flute when we returned from summer break. Again, I was told there was no guarantee there would be a flute available in the fall, and now I was a full year behind in learning how to play.
I asked, “If I bought my own flute, would I be able to play it?”
“You’d have to audition to show you could play at the grade 8 level,” was all he said. It was all I needed to hear.
A girl in my grade who rode on my bus played the flute. I asked her if she planned to practice over the summer. Of course, she just looked at me like I was crazy and said “no.” I asked if I could borrow her flute and her music book as I wanted to learn to play it. She gladly handed it over.
I practiced every day that summer. I taught myself not only how to play the flute, but also every single song we had learned the previous year.
When September came I marched into the band room and announced I wanted to audition to join the flute section. “I don’t have any spare flutes,” the teacher said. “It’s ok, I’ll buy my own,” I replied.
I sat down and played. I was nervous, but he had a way of purposely not paying full attention to you as you played for him as to allow you to relax. When I was done I think he was impressed but said, “Do you really want to buy your own? They’re expensive.” I told him I did and that my parents would lend me the money.
4 days later I held my brand-new flute in my hands. It was a $1000 flute but, because my music teacher had placed the order for me, we got it at the school’s rate.
With shipping it cost $431.21. Yes, I remember the cost to the penny because I did work for my parents every weekend for a year or two to pay them back.
Playing the flute after the trombone was every bit as wonderful as I had imagined it would be. I loved it. At the end of the year, in grade 8, I was awarded the “Most Improved Musician” award at the year-end concert. Usually, that meant that someone had really improved at their instrument that year, but I knew it was his way of congratulating me for my hard work in teaching myself how to play.
I continued my band nerdism throughout high school. I was part of a flute quartet (who magically won gold at the music festival even though the four of us had never played the song all the way through TOGETHER before!), was in Concert Band, and later was given a spot in Concert Ensemble.
I still have my flute. It was the first big purchase I ever made in my life, and it symbolizes a time where I refused to let no be the answer for me. I found a way to make my dream come true even though it took a whole lot more work to get there than if I could have just made that stupid clarinet mouthpiece make a sound on day one.
But I don’t regret it. I’m proud of what 13-year-old Suzi did. She persisted and kept her head down and worked hard to get what had come easily to many others. Not for lack of talent, but because of circumstance.
Don’t let someone else choose your dream. You might have to accept it in the short term, but if you believe in your dream enough, you can find another way to make it come true.
Be like 13-year-old Suzi. Order your shiny new flute and give back that busted trombone held together with a hose clamp that you didn’t even want in the first place.