Summer, 1982. The Russian Olive trees that lined our gravel driveway had started to bear their small, round, cherry-like fruits. It was nearing the end of June and the excitement of being on break was still palpable in the air, but around the corner each day was the ho-hum feeling of what to do. It was perfect, then, that my first beginner’s band camp was starting that hot and muggy afternoon.
As I climbed the concrete steps to the corner room of the junior high school, my mind became focused on the instruments warming up with their various tunes- beckoning for all who dream to enter. I walked in carrying my sleek and shiny black case with a spanking new polished flute resting comfortably on the inside.
My siblings and I grew up learning to play the piano; but for some reason or another, the white and black keys didn’t really do it for me. I wanted to try my hand at a different musical instrument, the flute. Time to spread my courageous wings and start my junior high dream of becoming a world-renowned flautist. The one who’d be invited to every mountaintop wedding, the one who’d shine in the orchestra at the Oscars in a spiffy tuxedo as the camera zooms in on the talented man playing the musical scores. Thankfully my Mom obliged, even though she probably was a bit skeptical of this new idea.
I remember finding a seat on one of the cold metal foldable chairs in the same row as the other flautists. There was one spot left at the end of the row with girl number one, girl number two, girl number three and then me. The boy with the flute. As I pulled out my instrument, the band teacher came over and welcomed me with kind words of encouragement, asking if I needed any help getting set up and started. He kindly showed me how to put the flute together and position it just so underneath my lips. He introduced me to girl number three and proposed I watch her. I did–but I couldn’t get one damn note to come out of the flute. It just didn’t work for me. While the ladies to my left were making their flutes sing, mine kept waiting. First my lip kept covering the hole. Then my hands weren’t holding it correctly. Then my nerves popped as I became acutely aware of a plethora of junior high eyes on me. I did my best to avoid the rising lump in my throat as I listened and watched every one of the musicians make their music when all I could do was sit tall and maintain my pride.
After a few days of giving this a try, my Mom and I made our way back to the small music store on Main Street. We exchanged the flute for a clarinet after much coaching and encouragement from the band teacher. I remember him pitching the clarinet as something to try. My Mom obliged once more and the next day I made my way back up the concrete steps and found a new seat on the opposite side of the flautists. This time, some notes (if you’d dare call them that) snuck out as new dreams were being born.
I didn’t end up at the Oscars, nor did I ever get invited to that mountaintop wedding, but I remember fondly my time with the clarinet and the friendships that were formed in those awkward years of junior high dreams.