Wednesday 10th September- Day 3 of Student Life- Wind Band tryout

After some course-related paperwork in the morning, I went to the Societies Fair with some of my flatmates.

A Societies Fair is where you can sign up to join a huge range of activities. About one hundred choices, ranging from the Tea-appreciation society to the Cheese society, Pole-dancing society and the Anarchist Society. I joined mostly music societies, one of them being a Wind Band. Their first rehearsal of the year is tonight.

At Wind Band, my Auditory Processing Difficulties were not a problem, in the past, before Johansen Individualised Auditory Stimulation therapy, I had found it difficult to hear conductors’ instructions such as what bar number we were starting from. In fact, this was the first time I had played in a wind band since my hearing was fixed. However, tonight I  had other things to worry about.

When I signed up to Wind Band, I hadn’t thought things through. All that had computed with me was that I would have the chance to play on an acoustic drum kit. I missed my drums back home in Glasgow and my electric kit was still in pieces in IKEA bags in my new room. Already playing that acoustic kit in my mind, I hadn’t even considered some important things such as:

  • I haven’t played in a wind band in about five years
  • I have never played drums in a wind band or with a conductor before
  • I have been playing drums less than a year and a half
  • Rock, punk and metal drumming will not be helpful in a wind band
  • I have never played drums in front of anyone besides my mum (when my times up and she wants to use the attic computer) and my bandmates (in our cosy little studio room)

I arrived, I was enthusiastic, and I didn’t know how to put a drum kit together from pieces. Luckily the percussion section were much more cluefull than me and we were soon set up.

My first attempt at playing drums in front of sixty people went badly. I couldn’t read the music because it was on two lines instead of a music stave. I had to stop before I’d started and one of the other drummers took over. He played it perfectly.

Standing around not sure what to do, something else dawned on me. Oh yeah, I’ve never played percussion either.

That’s when they gave me the hand-cymbal part to Liberty March.

Hand cymbals are huge, hand-held cymbals which you slam together in a specified rhythm. For most of Liberty March, you slam them together every second beat. Slamming is really fun until your arms get tired. Halfway through the piece, I began to slam gradually more slowly. If I were on triangle duty, I would have got off scot-free, but unfortunately, I was the loudest thing in the room.

Somehow we got through to the end of Liberty March. Now I was on triangle duty.

The percussion section were lovely. They were supportive of my lack of ability and tried to make me feel better. Their great sense of humour and carefree attitude cheered me up a bit. At first I had felt like crying with frustration, but now I saw the funny side of my situation- I was a talented music school-trained flautist, choosing to play very badly in the percussion section.

After a slightly disastrous first attempt at playing a rack of long, silver tubes (which had beautiful colours) I had a chance to go back on the drums. I had a lot to live up to. The other two drummers were very talented. The not only kept time with the conductor, but also improvised parts of the music while sight-reading. And they could do rolls on the snare, which I envied.

The chosen piece was YMCA. It is not hard, but I had never played in front of a crowd, let alone sight-read. I enthusiastically hammered out a messy, out of time beat, struggling to follow then conductor and read at the same time. I had forgotten whether arms up or arms down signalled the first beat in a bar. I was so nervous, I probably tried both just to be sure.

I feel like the conductor might be glad to see the back of me after that.

Probably looking very sheepish by now, the lovely percussion people gave me coconuts to play, and fairly easy-looking coconut notation. Coconuts are a percussion instrument I had only ever seen in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. I was excited to try them. This went okay. Coconuts were fun and about my level. Matte-White, circular sounds, the size of small balloons, in the air just in front of me.

Rehearsal over, the percussionists told me not to worry, and said I’d learn percussion if I came to rehearsals. I think I might just stick to trying to improve my drum skills on my electric kit back at the flat. I’d like to see them again, but I might not be cut out for Wind Band drumming.

I have the enthusiasm to be a good drummer, but beside the other drummers, who may have been music students, my playing was pathetic in the loudest way possible. I still had fun, but realised that if I want to be as good as those guys I will have to practice, practice, practice. I will. I’d love to be a good drummer.

Packing away my sticks and getting out my helmet for the homewards cycle, I was asked by one of the leaders of wind band, I thing,  if I played any other instruments as well as percussion. I think they saw I was a bit crestfallen about my deafeningly-displayed lack of ability and were trying to make me feel fetter. I said that I didn’t play percussion, this was my first try. I said that I could play flute too. Well, they said, smiling warmly. We take players of all abilities.

The next time I’ll play drums in public will probably be with my bandmates at our first gig. It’s reassuring to think that at least it probably won’t be as bad as tonight.

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