“I’ve never liked playing tuba alone. It’s just one boring phrase after another. But when you play in an ensemble and hear all the other parts, it becomes music. It becomes harmony. You can really tell you’re carrying the piece. I’ve liked tuba ever since.” -Gotou Takuya
I’ve mentioned quite a few times in previous posts that I grew up playing the piano, having started at a very young age, but I don’t know if I ever mentioned that I also picked up percussion at the wise age of ten. The choice was a simple one: I took one look at the mallet instruments–glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, chimes–and saw my piano keyboard. And when I joined the concert band, it was easy to shift into the role of mallet player since all the boys wanted to smack the drums and auxiliary percussion. It wasn’t too long before I realized that to continue on would require I learn the other percussion instruments, as boring as they seemed.
I cannot recall what piece was my first on a drum, but I do remember the excitement that filled me each time we played a march and I stood at the snare, bass, or cymbals. Even though none of them played the melody, or even the harmony, they carried the beat of the entire group. They were the life blood of the music. There’s no way I would have understood that so completely without having played as a band–practicing a bass drum line alone isn’t fun unless you’re seriously dedicated to the craft, and usually not even then! I also have an impossible time finding a non-percussionist who appreciates the triangle or tambourine in the ways they deserve.
Hazuki’s frustration with her slow growth as a tuba player is completely understandable. It’s not too often you pick up an instrument for the first time in high school–most either start music at a very young age, or later in adulthood. High school is that awkward time where many of us just wanted to do as we please, but also fit in. Not only did Hazuki start late, but she also ended up with an instrument of little glory, or as Takuya bluntly puts it, “The best thing about tuba… is that it doesn’t have anything. It doesn’t have anything going for it, but we try really hard.” Playing in sectionals and practicing alone are necessary to improvement, but lack the thrill of feeling invaluable to the big picture.
An interesting opposition to Hazuki’s experience is the situation involving many of the band’s seniors. They have seniority and some experience to back their involvement in the large group ensemble, but little appreciation for sectionals or self-practice. They become upset about not participating in events like other schools, and don’t understand the reason for their exclusion. I would venture to say this attitude towards music is more common for students who first begin in the school environment. The band becomes more of a social gathering than a rehearsal; the instruments become props instead of cast members.
I’ve been involved in ensembles like this and have friends who prefer this approach to music performance. At times, the relaxed atmosphere is relieving as a change of pace, but it doesn’t take long before I yearn for something more. It isn’t until I bring together both a devotion to the self and a passion for the group that I feel truly complete and ready to shine like a star.