Our saxophonist

By Dan Dunkle | Feb 02, 2017

Not long ago, Samantha, age 11, started practicing for school band on her uncle's old saxophone.

It was immediately apparent that she does not take after her old man strongly when it comes to applying herself to band practice.

When I was growing up, I saw band as a bit of a chore. There was dragging my old leather and wood trumpet case (also second-hand from an uncle) up hill all the way as I walked to school every morning only to be relegated to the third trumpet position. I was third trumpet because there was no fourth.

But, despite the fact that I did not become the next Miles Davis, I did learn to read music and some of that musical training came in handy when I took up guitar later on.

Samantha, on the other hand, is content to practice for nearly an hour at a time. She cannot wait to come out and play something for us.

She has also thrown a few fits of frustration as she was learning the notes early on, to the point where we had to say, "Why don't you take a little break." Other musicians tell me that frustration and even a bit of true rage can be part of the learning process.

I can remember the feeling of the metal strings cutting my finger tips and the unsatisfying "thwup" sound of the guitar strings when some clumsy finger was out of place, mangling the chord.

The ability to play the simplest song is a hard-fought victory.

Earlier this week we attended her first band concert over at South School and I thought she did very well.

It reminded me of the band concerts that I participated in years ago, the students arranged around the teacher/conductor in school gyms and auditoriums. The last minute scramble the night before to find a proper pair of dark pants and dress shirt, maybe a clip-on tie. There always seemed to be a student whose instrument wasn't working right or who forgot to bring the music book or stand. Panic and sweat, but somehow the show always went on.

Instruments require maintenance. Christine was hard at work fixing some part of the old saxophone this weekend. There was talk about cork and the need for new reeds and some kind of glue.

The teacher at the concert said it was important for the children to hear encouragement from their parents. It's harder than it sounds at the end of a hard day when you want only dinner and maybe to see the news and a few shows. But more and more, it seems that music may be Samantha's thing. She works at it so diligently even though no one is forcing her to. She writes little songs and walks around upstairs singing them.

Lately too, when I'm at these concerts, I realize that we need to encourage music and the arts as a community as well. Our bands and our chorus singers mark the seasons of the years, provide the pep for our sporting events, enliven our parades and set the tone for local Memorial Day observances. I know the arts are always a tempting area for budget cuts, but remember all of those bands that play and think how sad it would be to lose them.

And every subject at school is some kid's favorite. It seems music may be Samantha's.

One other note about the concert. The chorus sang "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, who just died in November. For just a moment I forgot I was at a children's concert and just found myself drifting off into the words of the song, and that's quite a thing.

So maybe for me, band is a chore no more.

Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, two children and two cats. Email him your questions and memories of the Rockland area at ddunkle@villagesoup.com or snail mail: 91 Camden St., Suite 403, Rockland, ME 04841. Follow him on Twitter @DanDunkle.

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