Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"And one time, when I was at band camp . . . . "

At the beginning of my senior year in high school, I came to a major realization about my identity. It was then that I realized I was not that great of a French horn player.

I had played French horn since the sixth grade and loved it. I was the only one in my class to play it, and I always loved that full, unique sound that the French horn is known for.

Unfortunately, I could never produce it very well.

You see, I got braces on my upper teeth in 8th grade and they didn't come off for another three years. Playing a French horn with metal braces on one's teeth gives new meaning to "play through the pain" let me tell you.

My braces came off during my sophomore year and my newly-formed mouth developed an involuntary vibrato when playing the French horn. Vibrato is definitely NOT what's called for when playing the French horn. What made matters worse was that the band director, Ms. Quintanilla, majored in French horn in college. My shaky, vibrating tone just drove her nuts.

So, at the beginning of my senior year, I threw in the towel. Wanting to become a well-rounded musician, I asked if I could take up a reed instrument. Ms. Q thought this was a fine idea -- anything to get me away from the horn section.

Deep in the bowels of the instrument closet, she found a contra-bass clarinet. Now, the contra-bass clarinet is a very unique instrument. There are the regular clarinets, the alto clarinets, and the bass clarinets. The contra-bass plays a full octave below the basses.

For one thing, it's a huge instrument, nickel-clad, measuring about eight feet in length. The one we had was a "paper clip" model, meaning that it was sort of folded around itself like a large paper clip. They're horribly expensive and I don't know how in the world my little high school band ended up with one, but there it was.

The good thing about playing such a huge reed instrument is that it required very little finesse or subtlety. Pretty much, all you had to do was honk on the darn thing. Also, I was well over six feet tall, weighed about 155 pounds, so the contra-bass and I were pretty equally matched. I've included a pic here from my high school yearbook. Doncha just love the hair?

I studied the fingering charts, practiced my scales, and got pretty good at it fairly quickly. My mom called it a "drain pipe" because it resemble the pipes underneath the sink. It always scared the hell out of our large, grey Persian cat, Chow-chow, which was fun too.

To play it, you sat in a chair with the instrument between your knees and it rested on a little floor-stand. Since it was directly in front of my face, I would often be a little cross-eyed while playing it. Or so I was told.

Ms. Q was pretty fanatical about all the instruments being in tune, so she had this electric oscillator up front to ensure each of us were exactly on pitch. We'd each play a note and the oscillator would indicate if we were sharp or flat.

So, she'd be tuning up the members of the woodwind section, one by one; flutes, piccolos, clarinets, saxophones, and me. Here's how it would sound:








pause . . .

pause . . . .


Everyone would crack up laughing every time. (I loved it.) Of course, there was no way you could really tell if I was in tune or not. Ms. Q would just kind of roll her eyes and go on to the brass section.

I'm really glad I wasn't that great of a French horn player. That inability enabled me to meet this wonderful, goofy instrument and I had such a ball doing it. To me, turning a bit of adversity into comedy is what makes life such an adventure and something, well, holy.



At 11:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny, dooder! *grin*

I can just picture you sitting there THOROUGHLY enjoying the attention that your loud-ass instrument got you! *hee hee*

OK, I gotta go do my laundry now. I'll see you tomorrow night for Tapas!


Poodle :)

At 3:17 PM , Blogger Lorraine said...

Aren't you just the cutest thing ever?

Ooh, tapas! What time?

At 4:15 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good thing blogger lets you use different font sizes, or this one would have lost some of the magic.

At 7:48 AM , Blogger Red Seven said...

In my time in the band, I played the baritone horn, the sousaphone (y'know, big wrap around tuba thing), and the alto saxophone. I thought I was so cool, because I played an instrument that the guy in Men at Work played. I didn't think about 1) that guy also played the flute, and I knew for a fact that male flute players at my school were not "cool," and 2) I was a band geek, for cryin' out loud.

Ah, youth.

At 8:50 AM , Blogger Br. Jonathan said...

Eric - - my god, you were so butch playing the baritone! Everyone in band knew that only straight guys played the baritone.

At 2:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's such a great story and so totally true. I was there and remember it well, and you really did get pretty good on the old "drain pipe".

BTW, for those reading, I'm his brother. I played the baritone. :)

At 1:32 PM , Blogger Br. Jonathan said...

Hey bro! It's good to see you on here! I'm glad you remembered the old "drain pipe". I could never compete with you in the brass section, you little rat. Good times . . .


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