Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Memoir: The Music that Made Me Love Symphonic Band

by Adena Schutzberg, Clarinet
(Author's note: If possible, read this while listening to the audio.)

A Rather Poor and Unmotivated Musician

May 1975 En-ka Parade. I'm the one with
black hair whose clarinet is obscured.
(Photo by Christopher Brown)
Like many of the other kids in my town, I started music lessons in fourth grade. Like many of those kids, I didn't practice much. I really enjoyed the participatory part of music. That's fifth grade me in a clarinet rank in the Winchester, MA elementary school 1975 All Star Band. I played in junior high, too, but really I was a rather poor, unmotivated musician through ninth grade.

The summer after ninth grade my mother signed my brother and me up for the University of New Hampshire's Summer Youth Music School (SYMS). We didn't know what to expect, but we did know that the first day everyone, all 350 or so students, had to audition. By that evening everyone was assigned to one or more ensembles for the two week school.

Campers graced the cover
of the 1979 double album.
There were four wind groups: two concert bands, a symphonic band and a wind ensemble. While all the groups were good (better than our high school band, certainly) it was clear musicianship rose in that order. My brother, a year old and far more talented than I, was placed in the wind ensemble and one of the jazz bands. To my great surprise, I was assigned to the symphonic band. I was seated about where I now sit in the Concord Band, one of the last clarinets in the last row of clarinets.

Let's Tune to Adena!

The first day of rehearsal we took our seats and picked up our folders. I looked through the music and it looked really hard. Then, the conductor, Walter Pavasaris (I remember his name to this day) said it was time to tune to.... Adena. I have no idea why he chose to tune to a third clarinet, but he did. And, once or twice more during the two weeks we tuned to me. I thought it was awesome. I was "somebody."

Of the music in the folder I could manage Sea Songs, but this weird piece with lots of rests called Incantation and Dance seemed way over my head. Still, I loved it. I'd never heard a group of instruments like ours make those sorts of sounds. I recall sending a postcard home trying to explain the piece to my parents. I think I used the term "jungle."

These runs seemed impossible in 1979.
I burned the composer's name, John Barnes Chance, into my brain and tried to master the piece. The toughest part for me were runs up and down the scale. They were so fast I could not be sure I hit exactly the right notes along the way. At the beginning of our second week of rehearsals Dr. Pavasaris made it clear that the clarinet section was setting a mood. What was most important, he said, was that our runs should be going in the right direction, up the scale or down. It mattered less which notes we played. Whew.

I liked the piece so much I wanted to play as much as I could for the end of camp concert. So, like my fellow musicians, I locked myself in a practice room and "woodshedded" the passages that I might possibly be able to play. That's the first time I'd heard the term "woodshed" used to mean "practice."

The Concert and Beyond

The concert was fantastic! I played perhaps 60% of Incantation and Dance, but I was hooked. I started to practice seriously. I moved up the ranks in my high school band and joined my brother in the wind ensemble in my final year at SYMS. I played in my college's wind ensemble and later as a rare non-music graduate student in the Penn State bands. My master's thesis, in geography, is actually about the Penn State marching band.

My family purchased the 33 RPM records of the concert. I listened to Incantation and Dance quite a bit in high school. And, before I went to college I was careful to copy that version to a cassette tape to take with me. I didn't play anything by John Barnes Chance until graduate school, when the Penn State Symphonic Blue Band performed his Variations on a Korean Folk Song. By then I was sure that a symphonic band was my favorite kind of band.

Adena Schutzberg

Had I not been captivated by the instrumentation of the symphonic band and by Incantation and Dance at age 15, I'd likely have given up the clarinet. I feel very lucky to have spent the last ten years with the Concord Band and to be able to perform my very favorite band piece at our upcoming concert!