15 February 2015

Where Words Fail

If you've checked out my bio (link here) you'll know that I play both clarinet and tuba (though I don't know if what I call "tuba playing" really counts). But that's kind of all you know on that subject.

I joined Band in 6th grade; I chose to play the clarinet (and honestly, it was because I didn't recognize any of the other instruments' names) and I've just been playing ever since. That's the boring version of this story.

I liked middle school band, but I also kind of hated it. In 8th grade, I planned on quitting and re-joining once I got to high school. My parents had other ideas. They insisted that I do band that year because the alternative I wanted wouldn't "get me into college" (because colleges look at your middle school experiences. Totally.) and because, well, they said so.

And then, when I started 9th grade, I had my first experience with marching band. To say the change was refreshing doesn't even begin to explain the sort of euphoria I felt every time I walked into class or arrived at rehearsal or competition. For some people, their happy places are scenes envisioned in their heads; for me, it was opening up my case and setting up my clarinet.

Towards the middle of my freshman year, this guy I was dating- let's name him Tony- started to get really abusive- he'd always been a little controlling, but after winter break that year, things began to spiral out of control. I'd prefer not to go into details. Suffice it to say that the longer I stayed with him, the more depressed and suicidal I became.

It was band that kept me going. 

In May 2011, my director made me co-section leader for the upcoming season. After all the auditions/interviews had been completed, I stayed after school one day and I was speaking to him. He was working on something on his office computer but at this moment, he swiveled around in his chair and said, "I'm really proud of you."

That hit me. I'd made people proud before- my parents, for instance, when I became Vice President of the National Junior Honor Society. But for some reason, my director telling me he was proud of the way I'd progressed that year really struck me. 

I held onto that all summer, looking forward to the renewal of marching season and the beginning of my sophomore year. When the school year started, Tony and I started seeing each other again- though I'd successfully avoided him for months, I no longer could when we both spent hours together every day in band. Tony's abusive behavior intensified. I spent my days terrified, feeling as though I was treading through a minefield, and no matter where I stepped, I set one off. The suicidal thoughts returned, even worse.

Again, the only thing that kept me from killing myself was throwing myself into my responsibilities in band. I held sectionals every week, hounded my section members about attendance, and spent hours practicing our repertoire.

That year, at our Marching Band Banquet (held in November, after our final marching competition), I was named Most Outstanding Section Leader and my section was named Most Improved. 

Tony continued threatening and tormenting me, and small instances of physical abuse occurred, but I was clueless and desperately "in love" with him so I did nothing to escape. He'd brainwashed me into thinking I deserved it, into thinking I needed him, that I was worthless.

Until one week that spring where he was mysteriously absent. Suddenly, I was no longer constrained, attached to his hip; suddenly I was allowed to talk to the friends I'd had before he'd come into my life. That week, I also found out he'd been dating a girl at a different school for nearly a year. 

My perspective on everything changed.

When he returned, when he tried to get me back under his control, he couldn't. Knowing that my friends still liked me and knowing that he'd lied to me- I felt empowered. I slowly cut him out of my life- difficult, because he still wanted to talk to me, hang out with me, and being around him made me queasy. I tried integrating myself into the group my friends had formed in my absence- you can imagine my happiness when they accepted me with open arms. 

Now I had two happy places, both brought to me by band.

I continued working hard, and was named section leader again going into my junior year. I began taking clarinet lessons, and in December 2012, I auditioned for and made it into my county's honor band- the only person from my school to do so that year.

But even though Tony was out of the picture, I still felt residual depression. I still struggled with recognizing my worth, and I'd also begun taking more difficult classes- my grades slipped and it took much of my effort to maintain my GPA. I felt angry most of the time, and band no longer offered me a safe haven. My section was unruly and disrespectful in the fall, and in the spring I lost my place as first chair. 

I experienced a series of panic attacks and my hair was falling out in clumps; the stress was literally killing me from the inside out. The end of my junior year was not a happy one. 

I decided to switch sections and learn to play the tuba, and then I auditioned for drum major- and was appointed Assistant, meaning I'd conduct half the time and play the other. I spent the summer preparing for the upcoming season, half wanting to kill myself all the while.

Then, in July, I attended a three day clinic held at NAU with my band director and the two other drum majors. Three days spent talking solely about band and music and conducting and leadership. We talked about how to make every minute we put in to the activity matter. For me, it was almost like a spiritual journey. It was there that I completely committed myself to the idea of majoring in Music Education.

I drove home, feeling almost renewed. Not fully healed, but I felt as though I had the energy to get up and try again.

So began my senior year. I was taking three AP classes and four electives- difficult, but manageable. My band performed exceptionally well- better than that, actually. I continued my clarinet lessons. I joined choir. I made Honor Band again. I found out I was a valedictorian candidate. I did winter drumline. I was accepted to every university I applied to, offered thousands of dollars in scholarships.

Life was chaotic but harmonious.

In early January 2014, though just months previously I'd wanted nothing more than to become a band director, I rethought my choice. I decided not to major in Music Education. I nearly didn't do college band at all.

I accepted my admission to the University of Nevada. I enrolled in my classes. Band was not one of them. Things no longer felt so harmonious.

And then in June of that year, a friend of mine convinced me to contact the University's band director. I did; he successfully convinced me to commit to the University of Nevada Pride of the Sierra Wolf Pack Marching Band. In August, when I moved to Reno, I walked into the first day of band camp and looked around at the strangers around me and felt lost. But as we began rehearsal, things began to fall into place; I began to feel at home. 

When I was 11, I chose band as an elective because I wasn't much of a singer. When I was 14, it took over my life. At 18, it gave me a family in a place I'd never before been. Band has brought me joy and tears, and it has guided me through rough times and dark places. Without it, (prepare yourself for the cliche) I wouldn't be the person I am today. I might not even be around today.

Band, music, gave me an outlet for every awful and wonderful emotion I've ever felt, it lets me express things I cannot speak to.
Where words fail, music speaks. -Hans Christian Andersen

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