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Crescendos in the Classroom

A piece from my writing class last summer. This is part two in the series on my high school. This is the first piece that I wrote and was really fun. This is also the piece that I was asked to read to the class. The professor just sprung it on me ("And after the break, Allison will be reading") but I got some really good feedback.

Crescendos in the Classroom

 

Mr Paddock raises his neon orange baton. The band raises their instruments to their lips. The baton flicks up. The band inhales. The baton flicks down. A blaring mismatch of sounds blasts through the room. A clarinet squeals out an A sharp. A tuba bellows a low G. A flute shrieks a high F. I play middle C. My oboe cries like a dying duck. Other instruments that I can’t identify ring out under the noise.

Mr Paddock lifts his baton and flicks it down again. With that small motion the noise changes. In its place is the clear, simple sound of B flat major. The red dotted line on my tuner flickers to green as the instruments slid into tune.

“El Camino Real.” Mr Paddock pulls out his own music as the band scramble for theirs. “Allison, play the solo for us, alright?”

I nod and pull out my part.

“Bar 62.”

I lift my oboe and, with the cue from Mr Paddock, begin the solo.

 ******

The William Aberhart High School Band formed in 1958 when the school opened. Back then, the area currently used as the band room was just a patch of grass outside of the gym. Originally on the third floor, musicians lugged their instrument cases up three flights of stairs and down a dark hall to the original band room. Come concert time they lugged the instruments, including the timpani and marimba, back down the stairs. 

In 1985 the original band teacher, whose name has been lost to yearbooks buried in the back shelves of the library, left. The acoustics of the original band room caused her to lose her hearing. It was then that Mr Paddock took over. Two years after he started teaching, his hearing began to fail. He forced the school to either move the band room, or lose him and cancel the music program. The school agreed to move the room, but refused to pay for a new one to be built.

 ******

Mr Paddock puts his baton down. Clicks sound around the room as instrument cases flick open. I pull the reed out of my oboe with my mouth and start dismantling instrument.

“You eating with us today?” Colin asks as he walks up to me, his saxophone case slung over his shoulder.

“You bet.” I run a swab through my oboe and put it back in its case. Standing, I start weaving my way through chairs and stands. I put my case on the shelves at the back of the room, one of three oboes nestled among six rows of clarinets and flutes sitting above a row of tubas and euphoniums. Colin puts his saxophone on the bottom shelf in the section to the right, below two rows of trumpets, bass clarinets and bassoons. We walk around the corner and slide our music folders into slots on the wall breaking up the white and orange spines with our duct tape decorated folders, blue on mine and silver on Colin’s.

We grab our lunches and join some other band members at a table. All around the band room groups of students sit down to eat. When the bell rings, grade 11 students join in as well. While most of the students use music stands to eat on, my group occupies the only actual table in the room.

Meghan, a tuba player, pulls out a deck of cards and starts dealing. “Asshole. Aces high, twos wild.”

“Sevens beat all.” A clarinettist, Blythe, adds. Her younger brother, a trumpet player named Brian, nods in agreement.

Meghan finishes dealing and the first round begins. By the end of lunch four more hands have been dealt, cards have been thrown across the room and a fort of music stands and chairs has been made.

 ******

Once it had been decided that the band room had to be moved, the problem was where to put it. For the first year, the band used the stage in the gym as their practise room. Band classes and orchestra rehearsals were held alongside gym classes and sport practises. While the sound of basketballs drumming on the floorboards had the potential to be a metronome, no one was really happy with this arrangement.

At the end of the year, the school made plans to move the band to one of the auxiliary gyms. The school mounted sound baffles on the walls, but even that couldn’t keep the music from leaking out.

The band remained in the converted gym for five years before they had another chance to move. During this time, the Band Parents’ Council held numerous fund raisers to raise the money to build a new band room. They held bingo nights, bake sales and had students sell magazine subscriptions and chocolate to earn the money. The money was raised not only to build the new room, but also to buy instruments, obtain rights for music, rent concert halls and book camps and buses for trips.

An extension was added onto the back of the gym for the new room, complete with soundproof walls and doors. The new band room had carpet, the only room in the building with it, and soft panelling on the walls. Two offices for the band director and the choir teacher and two practise rooms, one of which was converted into yet another office for the Band Parents’ Council were included with the larger room. The main room itself was built large enough to fit the 50 odd person band, along with their instrument cases, three racks of music stands, two racks of chairs, two pianos, a drum set and a full orchestra percussion set, including marimba, xylophone, gong and timpani.

 ******

Band practise. Two hours, minimum, devoted to concert and competition preparation. Two hours of playing the same piece over and over again. Two hours of learning every parts but your own.

“El Camino Real.” Mr Paddock says.

I put my oboe down and pick up my English horn. Unlike in class, I don’t get the solo part here. Adrian, the grade 11 oboe player, takes it instead.

“If you have runs at bar 2, listen up.” Groans rise from the flutes and clarinets. I pull my reed out and suck on it; I don’t even play for the first 8 bars. “We’re going to go over this slowly. One note per count, alright?” They raise their instruments and watch Mr Paddock’s baton. One note for every flick. Much easier than the actual speed.

Fifteen minutes later and the rest of the band is fidgeting and whispering to each other. Mr Paddock shushes them. It works for a few minutes, but then the noise starts up again. In the end the clarinets and flutes get a lecture about practising at home and a reminder that the concert is in two weeks and the rest of the band gets scolded for talking.

Mr Paddock moves on to the runs at the end of the piece. I struggle with them, still not quite used to the larger spacing between the keys of the English horn as compared to my oboe. I manage to at least hit every fourth note, though Mr Paddock gives me a disapproving look.

We finally continue on and do a full run through of the piece. By this time the sun has already begun to set, casting a gold light over the room. The metal keys of the instruments gleam and even the cheap plastic of the rental instruments looks like rich mahogany. Mr Paddock’s baton flashes with the rise and fall of the music. With a final crescendo, a crash of symbols and a frantic run from the woodwinds, the piece ends with a last fortissimo note.

Mr Paddock pauses, his face calm. He lowers his baton and places it on the stand with a clack. “See you all tomorrow.”

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