The Joy of Being a Percussionist, and $H!* MY CONDUCTOR SAYS

So yeah, I guess – after two years with the Meridian Symphony Orchestra and a couple post-sax seasons with All-Campus Concert Band – that it’s time to stop calling myself “a saxophonist who is learning percussion” and start calling myself “a percussionist, sort of.”

I liked playing percussion almost immediately upon trying it. Some days, as a teacher, the noise can be unbelievable. To then go to a rehearsal where YOU’RE the loudest thing in the room – hallelujah. There’s something so deliciously physical about playing percussion, too. You’re not just sitting there blowing into your sax, all sedate and ladylike in your chair. Oh no; you’re standing up and hitting shit.

Sorry. See what happens when you start playing percussion? You start using vulgarities in your perfectly sedate and ladylike blog.

It wasn’t until this weekend, though, that I truly learned the joy of being a percussionist upon waking up early on a Saturday morning [editorial note: early for a Saturday, not in normal terms] showering, and driving all the way across town to – I must note – an irritatingly inconveniently located high school for a rehearsal – all to play seven measures.

See, though, I can’t be mad, because if I wasn’t a percussionist for this fine ensemble (and I love it, I really do, it’s my little energy boost for the week) I’d miss out on $H!* MY CONDUCTOR SAYS. It’s like $h!* My Dad Says, only with less Shatner.

To whit:

Directly before our Friday night concert last week, the associate director cut us off to make an adjustment to the emotional timbre of the piece. The concert was due to begin in half an hour, and a handful of early arrivals had begun filling seats as we did a few last minute touch-ups. Shaking his baton furiously at the percussion and brass, the conductor said – I kid you not: “If you climax before I climax, the audience is going to be sitting there wondering what on earth is going on up here on the stage.”

I. Kid. You. Not.

And let me tell you, in my nearly 25 years of performing music on stages small and not-so-small, I have never had a more strenuous musical challenge than that of keeping a straight face while playing the :cough cough: climactic moment half an hour later under full stage lights.

In further adventures of $H!* MY CONDUCTOR SAYS, I bring you two secondhand stories, courtesy of the current music majors in my life.

In our first story, the professor of music history walks into the classroom and asks her students if they’ve ever heard of [some composer or performer whose name utterly escapes me]. Without waiting for their answer, she continues to say, “I was just listening to him, and I want all of you to be touched just like I was touched just now in my office.”

I’ll give you a moment.

And in our final story for the night, I take you to a pre-concert discussion during a rehearsal of Symphonic Winds (the university’s auditioned wind orchestra). They’re talking about attire for the concert. A new female member of the ensemble raises her hand.

“Do you have an opinion on hose?” she asks. “I mean, do you have a preference between nude and black?”

The conductor makes a face. “Oh, let’s definitely have nude hose. I don’t want any black hose in my band.”

Story made funnier, I think, by the fact that this man is the conductor.

Thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen. You’ve been great. Tip your waitress, and enjoy your Poptarts.


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