The thing I miss most

Wow, do I miss music. Yesterday, I was driving home from getting groceries, and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique was playing. It was The March to the Gallows (the movement where the guillotine falls), and the percussion and brass were just pounding and sounding their macabre death tunes into my bloodstream. Meanwhile, winds and strings were going crazy with the anxiety of a path that only goes to one end and I cried at the sheer beauty of it. (Thanks, KVNO.)

I remember one summer in college I was hired for the University of Iowa Summer Band Camp. I lived in the dorms with teen girls as a resident advisor. I taught the flute players lessons, I ran errands for the executive director, AND I was the assistant to the orchestra conductor. 

I wish I could remember his name. 

This conductor programmed The March to the Gallows, which was perfect because it’s meant to be played by a huge orchestra, and summer band camp boasts nothing if not large numbers. I listened all week as he prepped the kids to play this difficult piece. He put the strings and winds through careful and methodical repetition of the tricky and winding passages. He bolstered the brass sections’ courage to aim their sounds (with beautiful tone) for the cheap seats. He fed encouragement to the clarinet player, who has the honor (and terrifying moment) of playing the ‘idee fixe’ (theme that runs throughout the symphony) right before the guillotine chops off the composer’s head. 

On the day of the concert, the conductor had a dress rehearsal with the kids. He didn’t want them either to peak or blow their lips out. So he made them SING their parts – even that big clarinet solo. Imagine 100 high school kids willingly singing, tapping, and clapping their parts – dynamics included – in a super resonant room. It was one of the most effective and memorable rehearsals I’ve ever been privileged to hear.

The first time I performed Symphonie Fantastique was with the Cedar Rapids Symphony – my first job out of college. I haven’t performed it since, though I have practiced the flute and piccolo parts, which show up on orchestra auditions quite frequently. I was supposed to play it last year, with Lincoln Symphony.

Yesterday in the car, I started crying because I didn’t get to play it last year. I cried because the music is so damn beautiful and compelling and visceral. I cried because I miss making music. 

It’s not that I’m not playing my flute, but there is something completely perfect about pieces like March, where you get to challenge yourself, play at your best individual level, and then put it together with other people doing the same.

My music experiences have ranged from ordinary to sublime. When it’s your job, you face the same things anyone does – the comfort and occasional boredom of tackling known or easy tasks, the exhilaration or anxiety of new challenges, dealing with the contributions and foibles of your colleagues. Usually, it’s just another day. Sometimes it’s absolutely, perfectly, providentially sublime.

I’ve felt this way since I played my first rehearsal with the Omaha Area Youth Philharmonic (circa none of your business). Listening to music affords me all the emotions, but performing is where magic, heaven, bliss, and meaning reside. I will be playing until they pry the flute from my cold, dead hands.


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