When people find out I’m a music teacher they often tell me some version of the following: “Oh you play (flute, clarinet, saxophone)! I used to play (flute, clarinet, saxophone) in the school band. I really liked it but (I quit to play sports, budgets were slashed, or some other reason). I still have my horn though! I wonder if I could still play it.” I always tell these people that if they get out their instrument and start playing, they might be amazed at what they still remember, even if it’s been decades since they played. The reason is that muscle memory lasts much longer than regular memory. Your body remembers how to do things that your mind has long forgotten.
I used to play flute in the school band, and it was a great experience. It teaches you how to blend into an ensemble, how to follow a conductor, and how to read music. However it doesn’t do a lot to help you improve your individual technique. That’s why I started taking private lessons when I was fairly young. Once I started doing that, and practicing more regularly, I noticed that I got better much faster than most of the other students.
During my first couple of years of high school, I didn’t play in the band. I was making a lot of progress in my private lessons, and getting ahead of the other students who were only in the band. Music classes could be frustrating sometimes. We played the same pieces over and over every day, and often didn’t make much progress because people weren’t practicing at home. Being a school band director can be very stressful. It’s like teaching a regular class of 30-40 students who all have really loud noisemakers. Because of this, the directors would sometimes get pretty angry, or even melt down completely. It’s only now that I have some understanding of how difficult their jobs really were.
My high school had terrific music teachers, and when I started playing in the band again I enjoyed it and learned a lot. I was also in the choir and the jazz choir (did I mention that I was in choirs my whole childhood as well?). In college I picked up the saxophone and joined the jazz band, but I decided not to major in music so I eventually moved on.
I’ve been a part of one music project or another for most of my adult life, and I’ve learned that the basic things you learn in school band apply to any music group. Listen carefully, play in tune, play together, follow the director. Playing at home is wonderful, and helps you to get a lot better, but ultimately music is a cooperative endeavor. There is nothing like the feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself, contributing to the creation of beautiful music with people that you appreciate and care for. This shared experience is why I think of musicians all over the world, despite our differences, as part of one big family.