My everyday jewelry is pretty modest. My wedding ring, my Aggie ring and a pair of diamond studs. I’d been going to nursing school before this whole cancer vacation kicked in and they discourage jewelry. Suffice it to say, I rarely delve into my jewelry box, but deep down in the bowels of that hand carved paper weight are three french horn mouthpieces.
In band some of the more expensive instruments were on loan from the school. My french horn was a loaner. In Jr. High I would lug it to and from school everyday. I never actually practiced it at home but carrying it the 10 blocks from school was a penance for that. The twists and turns of the horn didn’t make it the heaviest of all the instruments, but it was the densest.
Because the instrument was property of the school, all I had to buy (other than some very stylish marching shoes) was a mouthpiece. Without my horn, the mouthpiece looked like a very fancy duck call. It sounded like an expensive kazoo. On early mornings it would be ice cold and it was the one thing you HAD to bring everyday to band. If you forgot your mouthpiece you were publicly shamed and then made to use one of the extras that our associate band director kept in his top desk drawer. These mouthpieces were not silver and gleaming. They were dark and smudged with pencil lead. They had scratches from countless pockets and braces-wearing band kids.
I was a consistent third chair in Jr. High. (Fact: There were only three french horns in our Jr. High band. Also, shut up.) As previously mentioned, I didn’t really practice. Making things worse, I was horribly shy and we had to play in front of other people on chair test day. Two of the cutest boys in my grade played the trumpet. Through a strange set of circumstances, they were also step-brothers to my cousins making them my step-cousins. Lucky me. On chair test days the band director would take the entire horn section to the stage and we would have to play in front of everyone. I hated it. After a particularly rousing rendition of our school song in which I had to start over twice because I couldn’t hit the high note, they gave me a standing ovation. Assholes. I managed to crawl inside the bell of my french horn.
One of them quit band at the start of high school. The other became one of my very best friends. We grew apart after we graduated, but I truly miss him. His little brother is my little brother’s best friend and we were both voted most likely to succeed. I think he’s an engineer now and has lived up to his title. Me, not so much. Or at least not yet. (As a side note: Jolie was best dressed. Ask her to see pictures.)
A few days ago, I was asked to join a Facebook Group for my old band director. The girl who started the group was a twirler. She’s the kind of girl people want to hate but it’s just impossible. She has pretty. She’s not pretty – she has it. She has so many things going for her and “pretty” is just a piece in her arsenal. I’m truly surprised there aren’t Aerosmith videos built around her. She’s also kind. Incredibly kind. She’s the type of person who walks into a room and immediately everyone is more comfortable. I imagine many people look up to her and that she’s completely oblivious to it. I know I do.
I don’t normally join groups or like pages on FB. I just don’t really like FB. I feel like FB is just missing an I. As I scrolled through the comments and posts, it made me laugh. It also made me truly happy. I looked through the names in the group and thought about the people I used to know. High school band is like the island of misfit toys. So many of kids weren’t the most popular, the “hottest” or the “coolest”, but as an ecosystem it is absolutely perfect. There is competition. There are cliques. But there is also this silent understanding that you are a part of something. I think music speaks to our souls. Some part of our lizard brain is encouraged to evolve, to elevate, because of music. People who were in band know what it feels like to play in a group. To lend their “voice” to make a bigger, richer and more complete sound than one could ever reach on their own. Some of the most interesting and successful people I know were in band. I’m not sure if it’s the teamwork, the talent or just the ability withstand all the forced conformity in high school that makes these people so special and unique.
I had to quit band after my sophomore year. I couldn’t take athletics, band and honors classes in the right combination to fit my schedule. But as I scrolled through this list I remembered the people, the smell of the band hall – of wet grass and early mornings, and I remembered what it felt like playing an instrument and really being a part of something. There’s a quote we have at Texas A&M University: “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it”. That quote fits here, too.
In my jewelry box there are three french horn mouthpieces. One is mine, two belong to the Mighty Apache Band, but all of them remind me of a skinny, frizzy haired girl looking for a place to belong.