Thursday, January 23, 2014

To Sousa and the End of the Semester

Every year as a band student I would have to face playing a dreaded Sousa March EVERY year. See for some reason every conductor I have ever had the pleasure of learning from has had a love affair with Sousa - from middle school all the way through college. They go on and on about he's the father of marches and how actually his more brilliant work is found in the many operas he composed that are mostly forgotten. He's an American musical icon and every band student must play and recognize the brilliance of Sousa. It was a fundamental part of my musical training. You just don't mess with Sousa, the March King.

So every year as a band student I came to expect and dread playing a new Sousa march. It's not that I didn't like Sousa marches, in fact, I rather did enjoy listening to them, BUT playing them was a whole different story. See I played the oboe - a perfectly wonderful instrument; however, the oboe was not meant to play marches. So when I walked into the band room and saw on the board the list of composers we would be playing for whatever particular rehearsal, I would know if I would be spending my time counting rests and playing off beats OR engaging in a wonderful musical experience. 

When Sousa was the focus my rehearsals they went something like this: Warm up with the band, tune with the band, and then sit... and sit.... and sit.... and sit... Of course I was supposed to be counting rests -  you know for something like 50 measures AND then when I finally would come in... it would be the really important part of off beats! 

SO. Boring. Not only that, usually I was playing off beats with the French Horns who could perfectly cover the off beats by themselves that I would often think.. what's the point. I guess I'll sit here and be insignificant. If I don't play no one will actually notice. This is a waste of my time.

I had one of these frustrating moments as a junior college where I was playing Stars and Stripes Forever. I was pretending to count off beats meanwhile internally I was panicking over my physics homework that was due in less than 24 hours that I had not started yet. WHY am I sitting in rehearsal on a Thursday evening playing SOUSA when I have this massive homework set due that I have no clue how to start? This. Is. Pointless.

Disrupting my thoughts, the professor had stopped the band and shook his head. I don't remember exactly what he said, but the sentiment was something like this... "NO! You are doing it wrong! Sousa Marches are SO beautiful but SO difficult to do right. This is his MOST famous march. People know this! Messing it up is NOT an option! From the top." 

Meanwhile, my young adult self was like "yeah, yeah, whatever old man. I don't know about you, but I'm NOT majoring in music. You know that thing we go to college for.. to major in something and then go on and be successful at or something. YEAH. Well that major is kind of kicking my butt right now and this music business and getting this Sousa march right... SO not important to me."

With my bad attitude and annoyance with being forced to sit still and think something dawned on me. There will come a day when I will miss playing Sousa - off beats and all. I laughed at the thought at the time, but I remember distinctly thinking it. What an absurdity! How could I ever miss playing Sousa! Surely I never will.


I caught myself humming Sousa today while washing the dishes and nearly dropped the glass in my hand. It had happened. Somehow, through all those hours in rehearsal, Sousa had leaked into my subconscious and found its way into my ordinary boring routines 4 years later. 

The idea of playing a Sousa march in rehearsal sounded like music to my ears. I would give almost anything to go back to those precious and frustrating moments.

1 comment:

  1. I wish you would post more often! I have really enjoyed reading your entries. I was recently accepted in the NYCTF program and it's refreshing to see a more balanced view of things.