Sidelines and Sessions


Just me and the horn

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 6:14 am

“And she’ll promise you more/Than the Garden of Eden
Then she’ll carelessly cut you/And laugh while you’re bleedin’
But she’ll bring out the best/And the worst you can be
Blame it all on yourself/Cause she’s always a woman to me.”

-Billy Joel

I used that stanza as a metaphor for my relationship with music on college applications. It’s funny – none of the schools I used that essay for let me in, except Loyola New Orleans (and I had just met one of their admissions officers the year before, so maybe they just felt sorry for me.)

It wasn’t my best piece of writing – which is probably why I didn’t get in to any of my Common App schools. Truth can be masked by inept craftsmanship, though.

My musical life was a pretty stormy one – if it were a two-person kind of thing, my friends would hate her because of our on-again, off-again thing. I turned my back on church for competitions, then decided not to audition for any music schools. I refused to play solos for friends, but I played other people’s parts in class when I was bored. My family dropped thousands on my “habit” – until I got to college and picked up new ones.

Rapture City Philharmonic reminded me how much I miss saxophone. The ease I had, the control, the simple pleasure of hearing it and knowing it was an extension of what I heard in my head, the feeling that everything just fell together in this sound that I made with others around me.

Not that I regret my choices at all – for once. (Bitching about the past is a nasty habit I can fall into sometimes.) I read Mozart in the Jungle and cringed – classical or not, I don’t think I could earn a living in an occupation that is less satisfying that guarding prisons. I looked at the collegiate and adult professional musicians where I grew up and I didn’t want that life for myself. I didn’t like teaching, wasn’t sure about gigging, and didn’t think I was good enough for studio work, on the side or not – I’m no John Legend.

But with all that, I’m glad I’ve had eleven years with saxophone. It’s shaped my preferences, my prejudices, and my behavior.

Music stripped me of my illusions about the creative class, and left me with appreciation.

Music, most importantly, trained me to be a working artist. Music taught me that art isn’t waiting for inspiration, or “for the right moment” – it’s preparing for the right moment and making it come to you. Too many writers I know don’t spend time practicing their craft and building a repertoire – they don’t read – and consequently their writing is unreadable or powerless when they do write. Music’s the same – technique drills, scales, and practice to perfect form, listening and playing constantly to perfect content. Art’s working day in and day out, training your craft diligently and carefully – so when the day comes and you have to perform, your mind can hold the reins of your skill lightly, whether it’s a pen, a horn, a voice, or an ice skate.

Music taught me how to deal with people. If it wasn’t for band, all my friends would have been college-driven would-be professionals and scholars. I’d have missed out on most of the world. Band didn’t care about grades or tracks – but about ability and work ethic. And when it didn’t, it taught me how to brush off discouragement and swollen egos – useful at UCLA, and probably later.

And band took me a lot of places a typical Berdoo kid wouldn’t go – nicer schools, nicer parts of the county, the Rose Parade. Even around the insanely brilliant, insanely diverse people I’ve met at UCLA, there’s something about that commitment and its fruits that lingers a little, even when I’m taking a year or two off from playing. By Southern Californian standards, I’m a small-town and small-time type, but band (and books) helped me get out and on my way.

All it took was an hour with my old tenor to bring all that back into perspective.

I suppose, Spring Sing or not, I should start practicing again. Just for the joy of it, now that there’s nothing forcing me to do it and hate it.

No classes.

No band.

No ambitions no neuroses, no grudges.

Just me and the horn.


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