I have had the most wonderful time in Chicago, working an event for my clarinet maker, Morrie Backun, in conjunction with Quinlan and Fabish, a huge music store in Chicago. I was brought in to work with several school groups and educators, and perform a recital. I always love getting to work with young people, and this trip was extra gratifying thanks to visits to two very special schools. The in-school sessions also provided lots of laughter, especially at the middle school. I taught middle school band for five years, and I love the squirrely-ness of middle school students- you never know what they will do or say. Out of the mouths of babes…
When I went to the middle school, I found that I was to perform for the entire band, and then I would take the clarinets and work with them separately. In the small band room, I stood right by the front of the band to play, and it felt like the first row of students were right in top of me. The students were excited to have someone new in the room, but settled as I began to play. In the middle of one of the most technically challenging parts of my music, I noticed a sudden disturbance out of the corner of my eye. I kept on playing, even though it was obvious that several students were distressed, as I heard some of them gasp. Thinking that a student had passed out (hey- it happened to one of my own middle school percussionists during band contest in the sight-reading room), I stopped and asked if everything was okay. One of the band directors looked at me sheepishly…”Umm, I’m really sorry- there’s a millipede on the floor.”…at which several more young girls screamed in horror. I finished playing- the show must go on. It felt much like the time Mom had me play for her friends at a local nursing home and one very old woman began screaming and holding her ears. Performances like that you never forget.
After I performed several excerpts from my recital music for them, I bravely (or foolishly?) opened the floor for questions. Hands immediately flew in the air…
“How long did it take you to learn all those notes?”
“How many instruments can you play?”
“How long have you played clarinet?” (When I told them about forty years…)
“Why did you choose clarinet?”
and…when I answered that question with, “because my boyfriend in 6th grade played it.”…
“Aside from your boyfriend, why else did you play clarinet?”
“How many clarinets do you personally own?”
“How many hours a day do you practice?”
“Can we see your music?” (I show them…)…
At the high school, the questions were much different, more focused on entrance to college music programs and specific questions from clarinetists about techniques. What impressed me most was the absolute quiet and respect from these over two hundred high school students at Marion Catholic High School. The band director is one of the finest in the country and has student leadership down to a science. He never raised his voice or had to use any disciplinory methods – the students policed each other. What a treat to see such a well-prepared group of students, and after my talk, they surrounded me, eager with more clarinet questions and asking to try parts of my equipment. I love inquisitive students- always the best kind.
I head back to Birmingham this afternoon, and will take so many wonderful memories home with me….one caveat, though; no millipedes allowed. God, I love my job.