My magical musical journey: Part 2 – high school acceleration

By Ande Jacobson

This piece of the journey picks up where part 1 left off, the summer before my freshman year of high school. Leaving junior high behind, there was a lot ahead, and that summer was an eventful one. Normally, the incoming freshman class didn’t start band rehearsals until school commenced in the fall, but this particular summer was different. The band had been invited to participate in a massive summer parade as part of the Lions Club International conference in San Francisco, so there was no time to lose. The high school’s band was an award winning organization known throughout the western region as a top notch marching band. Their strength wasn’t in the drum corps style of marching or field shows. They thrived on military-style street marching competitions where everything, including standing inspections of the uniforms, hair length, musical interpretation, and marching precision was scored. My class, as incoming freshman, had a lot to learn in short order.

As soon as the school year ended in June, we began our Monday night band rehearsals at our new school. Those rehearsals drilled marching and music, but the incoming freshman were working at slight disadvantage. Of course we had to learn to march. We also needed to learn the music, but since the band was playing its competition march from the just-completed school year which all of the returning band members had memorized, we ended up having to fake it as music wasn’t handed out. Our director not only enlisted the incoming freshman for this event. He also included the recently graduated seniors to further expand the ranks. We had uniform fittings followed by hours and hours of marching in the school’s parking lot as we learned what we had to do. The returning band members helped us fit in, and it was quite an adventure. This was also the time when I had to learn a new clarinet embouchure. As I had mentioned in part 1, through 8th grade, I had played with a double reed embouchure. I quickly discovered that wouldn’t work for marching as I needed to bite down a bit to keep the instrument steady while simultaneously playing and marching. Playing while marching was a lot harder than it looked at first, and my new embouchure felt very strange until I got used to it. And to be fair, I wasn’t playing the whole march since I was just trying to reproduce some of what I was hearing around me by ear.

In between rehearsals, most of the freshman spent some time in the music building marching up and down the hallway. It was marked off with two sets of regulation steps. One row of markers was spaced in 27” increments for street marching. The other set of markers denoted the 22.5” steps that were used on those rare occasions when field marching was required. I even marked the hallway at home to get in more practice to master that 27” step which was much longer than my normal stride at the time. My family got to enjoy my attempt to not only hit the right stride, but they also got to listen to me play some of the music I had figured out while I marched up and down the hallway at home.

Finally, the night of the parade arrived. We suited up at the school and boarded the busses to head up to San Francisco. This was the night when my class discovered that, although our band uniforms were wool, they provided no real protection from the cold. Summer evenings in San Francisco were normally anything but balmy, and this night was no exception. Still, even though it was quite cold, the excitement of the event had our adrenaline pumping. My mother was standing next to our band director as we passed the review stand, and he was grinning from ear to ear as he watched his expanded band march through.

One bit of my previous musical life had to be dropped at this point, youth choir, which also met on Monday nights, but I wasn’t the only one to drop out at the start of high school. For the kids who got involved in their school’s music programs, particularly in instrumental music, it was pretty common to leave youth choir behind.

Once fall came, high school began in earnest, and if a student played a wind instrument, brass instrument, or percussion in the music department, they had to be in the band. They weren’t allowed to just play in concert band alone. If a student was in the band, they had to march. The top chairs from the band were then pulled to play in other instrumental ensembles such as orchestra or jazz band. If a student played an orchestral stringed instrument, they were automatically in the school’s orchestra. Finally, vocal students were in the school’s choir, and the better singers were also in chamber choir.

Freshman year, although I wasn’t in additional instrumental ensembles beyond band just yet, I was also in the school’s choir, and I sang tenor. Getting to spend some time in the choir room provided some additional musical opportunities. During the lunch period, a few of us would sometimes have ragtime races on the piano, taking turns playing various Scott Joplin rags such as Maple Leaf Rag, Magnetic Rag, The Entertainer, Pineapple Rag, and others. One of the seniors from the orchestra was a very accomplished pianist, and while he didn’t participate in such mundane things as ragtime races, he sometimes watched briefly, until he happened to watch my turn one time which sent him from the room with his head in his hands. I had the worst fingering possible when playing the piano, and he just couldn’t stand to look. Although we didn’t know one another before I started high school, that year we discovered that we had studied under the same piano teacher, though he continued studying for far longer than I did. He was horrified that somebody who had studied under our teacher could possibly have such atrocious fingering. In fact, that year he signed my yearbook to “the piano dropout.”

While the band went to numerous band competitions throughout the fall along with playing for every football game, the choir and orchestra presented a Christmas concert in early December. In the winter, the band played at most of the basketball games, but not in full uniform. In the spring, the band presented its major concert for the year, featuring both the band and jazz band. My freshman year’s spring concert featured the 1812 Overture, with electronic charges (canons) from under the sousaphone section. I was glad that I was well downstage of those explosions as it’s very difficult to simultaneously plug one’s ears with one’s fingers and play an instrument.

Although the pyrotechnics for the 1812 Overture made that spring concert rather memorable and a tad traumatic, the biggest thing to happen that school year began in the winter and ended just after the school let out in June. Our band had been selected as one of six out of state bands to participate in the Portland Rose Festival in Portland, Oregon. This included a monster parade that rivaled the more famous festival in Pasadena, California, along with a field show. While our band wasn’t known for its field shows at that point, starting in the winter, we had rehearsals on the weekends, and two mornings before school each week to perfect our performance. Those morning rehearsals began at 0630, and the field tended to be rather soggy at that hour, so most of us brought a change of clothes before heading off to class after marching practice.

We had to learn and memorize a bunch of new music for the field show, which we did eagerly. We also had to raise a good deal of money to fund the trip for the band. In addition to some donations, we held a 15 mile march-a-thon in the spring. After spending a couple of months gathering pledges (people signed up to donate so much per mile marched), we arrived at the designated Saturday. We had quite the send-off in the morning with the parent boosters cheering us on. We had a small cadre of boosters following us along our route in case anybody needed help. We also stopped for lunch at the halfway point and enjoyed a meal supplied by the boosters to keep us going. We marched a route that started and ended at the high school and wound through town in a very circuitous path. We played some of the time, and just marched to a drum cadence for part of the route. For the last couple of miles, we weren’t exactly marching. We were kind of just walking, not necessarily in step, and the snare drummers took turns keeping a beat rather than playing a full cadence. When we got back to the school, as we entered the parking lot, we squared our ranks and files, and we played our competition march (Army of the Nile) one final time to cheers from our families and friends. Then we kind of all collapsed.

The morning after we played for the school graduation that June, we headed to Portland to prepare for the big event. We got a little bit of time on the field the day we arrived, and that night was field show competition. The crowd loved us, even though we didn’t win that competition. The next morning was the big parade, another long route made far longer by marching from the busses to our starting point and marching another couple of miles at the conclusion of the parade back to our busses.

Sophomore year was another interesting one in large part because I got to play in my first pit orchestra for our school’s production of The Music Man as detailed in My first pit experience commentary. Although my first pit experience was very memorable, several other exciting music-related things happened that year including moving up to the first clarinet section in concert and marching band, joining the school’s orchestra outside of the pit, and learning alto sax to play in the jazz band (they wouldn’t let me in with just clarinet). I quickly discovered that a clarinet player can learn to play the saxophone relatively quickly because the embouchure is similar and they already know most of the fingerings, but going the other way is much more challenging.

Junior year continued with more of the same, participating in marching band, concert band, orchestra, and jazz band. That year, I also was able to compete in a California Music Educators Association (CMEA) competition with a bassoon playing friend, which gave me an introduction into instrumental chamber music. We played the rondo from one of the Beethoven clarinet and bassoon duos, and we received a command performance for our efforts. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the venue to play our command performance that day, so we later received the medals, but not the applause.

My senior year took a few different turns. Although I wasn’t in many ensembles that year because of some serious conflicts with other academic pursuits, I still kept my hand in a few places, such as jazz band for the first half of the school year. We had our third band director in as many years, and like his immediate predecessor, he tended to put his own stamp on things rather than following the traditions of the past. As such, he made a few exceptions to the rule that everything stemmed from the band, allowing me to stay in jazz band without being in the concert and marching band. I also was able to compete in another CMEA festival, this time playing a movement from the Mozart Clarinet Concerto which went well, but no command performance this time.

Following high school, as I entered college, I was determined to continue with my music in some way, even if my studies and eventual vocation took me in a different direction.

Additional reading:
My magical musical journey: Part 1 – the beginning
Classical Music, Why Bother?: Hearing the World of Contemporary Culture Through a Composer’s Ears by Joshua Fineberg
The Great Courses: How Music and Mathematics Relate
How to Listen to and Understand Great Music by The Great Courses
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks
Remembering Mom and Dad by Ande Jacobson
The Student Conductor by Robert Ford
This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin
What to Listen for in Music by Aaron Copland
What to Listen for in Mozart by Robert Harris
What to Listen for in Beethoven by Robert Harris
Who Needs Classical Music?: Cultural Choice and Musical Voice by Julian Johnson

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