Monday, March 12, 2007


There is a sign at the front of the room that says"Try not to miss any notes".

Its been a while since I have had occasion to write about The Water Baby and her efforts in band. Last week I was able to attend the UIL Competition Warm-ups and I want to tell you what they do that I consider to be one of the most difficult things in the world to do well. Hell, to do at all.
I think I would rather take a beating.
Its called "Sight-Reading"; the Band is given a piece of sheet music that they have never seen before and they play it through for the Judges- one time and one time only- and they are Judged according to how well they do.
You may ask "how do we know they have never seen the music before' and the answer is that the Music is specially written by Composers just for these events.
The only aid that is given comes from their Director. While the Students have their sheet turned upside -down on the stand, the Director has 7 minutes in which he is able to offer his comments on the piece, which by the way, he has never before seen either.
It is very impressive as he rattles off the time signature, changes in tempo, Key changes and other details:
"Trombones, note that you go from Adagio to Carpacio (isn't that an Italian Hors d'ourve?) then rise to Flagrante' in the third measure; Flutes , at the Coda you will come in on the second bar, not the first; Drums the rhythm changes from "one two THREE" to "one TWO three" after the 23rd measure. Trumpets, pay particular attention to the 1/4 and 1/8 rests in bars 8 through 12."

And so he goes for 7 minutes and the Students as I have described last fall, are in total concentration for their instructions.
Then, they are allowed 4 "Warm-up" notes before turning the sheet over. The Director taps out "1-2-3" and off they go, sight-reading Musical script they have never heard or seen before.

This is the equivalent of a Culinary Competition where a Chef is given a Basket with 20 items in it and expected to plan and prepare a 4-course Meal in the next hour.
Actually, I think it has to be tougher. To play the proper notes at the right pitch and timbre and time, of a melody heretofore unbeknown to you, and in sync with the other 100 or more members of the Band...well, you have to know your stuff.
The sign at the front of the room? You must try to play the notes, even though you be unsure of them. These young men and women play right through their mistakes.
Time waits for no one.
I love 'em.

Yet another of life's lessons.

We were treated to a concert by a Junior High Band. The piece they played was "Shenandoah" which is an outstanding piece of Music as well as Americana. It has endured hundreds of arrangements over the years, attesting to its spot as a classic and is even covered by Richard Thompson on his "1000 Years of Popular Music" album.
They played with so much emotion and the song itself is so beautiful that I, for one, sobbed quietly to myself.

I was graciously alluded to as a "History Buff" by Mother of Invention on her brilliant post (that I fairly nearly mangled by talking of 18,000 souls slaughtered, wounded and and dying on a Civil War battlefield) concerning the Northern lights and her memories of an unusually spectacular display when she was a youngster. Over the next month I may impart some historical facts that I find fascinating beyond belief, but for now I will leave you with another of my favorite prayers, delivered by James Stewart in the movie "Shenandoah" which was set during the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia;

"Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it,sowed it, harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn't be here and we wouldn't be eating it if we hadn't done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same for the food we are about to eat, amen."


Mother of Invention said...

Great post, Steve! Thanks for the reference too.

I wish I could read music like these young people. That is a true test of their team effort and their collective musicianship. Water Baby is lucky to have experienced this!

You are a walking Wikipedia (sp?)of facts!

steve said...

Yes Mother; they consult me all the time...

Barbara said...

Sight-reading anything can strike instant fear. But it is so rewarding you can do it. I'm getting braver and better at it, but a couple of years ago it really freaked me out. And I don't even play with an entire band!

David said...

Sight reading in a large group in front of an audience - mind boggling and terror inducing! I'm in awe of these young people.

The closest thing (and this doesn't really come close) I can relate to is when our choir sang a Jazz Shabbat Service and the guest conductor(who composed all the music too), said, "Close your books. I don't care if you sing a few wrong notes. But, look at me and do it with feeling."

GrizzBabe said...

Iron Band Competition!

Mother of Invention said...

You're too funny! (I believe it!)

Annelisa said...

Wow, that must be some experience, and Water Baby must be so good/ confident at playing to be able to do that... I envy her the ability. I still have to work out which note each line and space is using the acronyms FACE and Every Good Boy Deserves Football (though I don't think they use the latter anymore!)

The director sounds fun - to be able to joke (or is that your additions?) when there's so few minutes to sum up a whole piece!

Love the prayer, too... however much we do, we will never be able to make the crops grow ourselves... we just have to hope for a good season; and conversely, however good the season, there's no point unless the work's been put in in the fields to prepare and grow the crops... The grafting and the 'luck' go side by side

Della said...

Thanks for writing this.