I guess some people like to reminisce about the lazy days of summer, of porch swings and lemonade, fresh-cut grass and sleeping late. There's something in the almost oppressive heat that makes kids run outdoors and parents run inside, into wide-brimmed hats or search for shade. Most people love the excuse to retreat to a place where they can work on their tan or and read romance novels.
My retreat is anything but relaxation.
I'm sitting in a room with a width barely longer than my own height, air-conditioning cranked low, blinds open so the natural light illuminates pages and pages of monochromatic circles and dots. There are two cases and piles of music splayed across the room, heaps of heavy-duty coloured string and tiny scrapings of cane littering the floor. An old medicine bottle about half-filled with water soaking two hand-made reeds sits on the windowsill. It's eight in the morning. Welcome to my practice room.
Welcome to my home.
I don't have a class until ten, but my roommate has been awake since seven. What better reason than to drag my normally-cranky self out of bed and down the labyrinth of stairs into a practice room. I don't have to dress nicely. I don't have to impress anyone. I do this for myself.
Here, at eight in the morning, practicing isn't a chore. I'm enjoying myself as I play through pages and pages of scale patterns, stopping every few measures to correct my articulation. But it's not the technical ability gained from the scales and etudes and method books that make a musician.
One-thirty comes around, and I grab both of my cases and lug them into Wind Ensemble. We've been working on the same pieces for two weeks now, especially The Dawning of a Soul. It's slow and pretty, but there's not much technique to it. After several attempts at starting the piece, we have not yet made it through measure sixteen without stopping.
"This piece takes maturity, guys," Dr. Ross tells us. "It may be easy for your fingers, but there's a whole lot of music there."
We're all puzzled by what he means. We're a bunch of fourteen through eighteen year-old kids, sitting in our separate chairs, playing everything the right way. Why is it, then, that we can't make it to the second page?
We finally make it past bar sixteen and finish the piece. Half of rehearsal is gone and there are three other pieces on this concert, each requiring more wood-shredding than this one.
"Soloists, stand please," Dr. Ross says. I rise, and the flugel horn, flute, bassoon, and clarinet rise with me. "You each did a marvellous job on your solos." The ensemble claps. "But you're playing like soloists. And sure, that's fine when you have your solos. You all, as an ensemble, are not a bunch of individuals playing a concert together. You are a group. Learn to play like one.
"This piece is not just notes on a page. A lot of you will find it easy. For your fingers, it is easy. But right now, you're playing it like it's easy, like it's just a piece of music. Make it yours. This piece describes great joy and great sorrow. This piece represents a lifetime of emotions. I don't think any one of us is old enough to play this piece. But we're going to. Dedicate this piece to your best friend, your lover, your dog. Make this piece your own."
"From the beginning," he said softly.
The second we hit the first note, we felt it. There was a change in the air, a change in the atmosphere of the room. From that second, we were not individuals and soloists.
We were an ensemble.
And from the opening flute solo to the final vibrations of the last chord, the piece was different. It was simultaneously the easiest and most difficult piece we had ever played as we travelled through the emotions of happiness and pain.
When the last chord died away, there was a silence that fulfilled the room. From that moment on, we were musicians.