What I learned playing music

June 16, 2015 by Andrew Robinson in

There are times when I’ll wake up in the middle of the night completely wide-awake. It’s very frustrating. And when this happens my mind just starts racing about the things I have to do. Of course this doesn’t help me get back to sleep because now I’m making lists and that’s not a good way to slide back into slumber.

But the other night, for some reason, my mind took me back to when I was in high school and playing music. I don’t think we used this phrase in the early seventies but back then I was what some people might call a “band geek.” In my senior year of high school I played in five different school organized bands: concert, symphony, jazz, All-City concert and All-City jazz.

I was a decent but not great musician and I loved music so much I considered becoming a music teacher. But I decided that I wasn’t good enough and I didn’t want to be a “good enough” musician and teach. The models for all my music teachers were that they were all excellent musicians and I didn’t feel as though I could ever attain that ability.

But as my mind was wandering through that experience at 3 o’clock in the morning I started to think about what I had learned playing music that I took to my career today and I realized there were many things.

When you are a musician in an ensemble, large or small, you have to play together under the same rules. You can’t decide to play a different tempo or play in the key of C when everyone else is in the key of F#.

You learn how to listen to fit your part in with everyone else. Depending on what your specific piece calls for, sometimes you play softly, sometimes with gusto, sometimes you take the lead and sometimes you don’t. If you’re a trumpet player your part is usually part of the melody and often heard above everyone else. If you’re the bass clarinet, the moments your instrument is heard is usually when the music is soft and quiet. Every instrument has a role to play and not everyone can be out in front.

Playing music isn’t like an athletic contest but it is competitive. You hear the musicians all around you and you know EXACTLY where you stand with regard to the talent level. If you’re not as good as the others, you work hard to improve your playing. If you’re one of the best, you work to stay there. And if you’re one of the best, you try and make those around you better by mentoring them.

You recognize the value in practice because it takes practice, LOTS of practice, to achieve an end product that you’re proud to share with an audience.

There is an order to things. The conductor gets to decide everything: how fast to play, how loud to play, how to interpret the piece. The conductor is the boss.

Playing music is a subjective thing. Everyone has different tastes and you learn to respect that. Not everyone likes country music or operas. I never liked playing marches that much but our audiences loved them. Like all good art, everyone has likes and dislikes and no one is wrong. You like what you like.

And then there is the music itself. In front of you on a stand is your part, and it’s not like everyone else’s part, it is unique to you and it’s your job to learn it and play it well. Follow the script.

I never realized until now how important music has played a role in my life. I guess that’s why I still play although I’m no longer a trumpet player; I now play the saxophone in a community band.

Once a band geek always a band geek I guess.

Andy- The GM