Everything I needed to know, I learned in high school


This week, I hit chorale number fifty, which also means that I’m about 50 days into this project.  The hymn tune is a recognizable one, usually found under the name Innsbruck, and this setting seems to be very close to hymn settings with which I am familiar, judging by the voice leading, and one of the better tenor lines I can remember. That B Natural in the third bar, on our way to the C Major cadence in the next, is one of those moments you’re glad you have an inner part.

In high school and college (part one), I rarely got to play lead alto sax, either in wind ensemble or big band. I was usually playing second alto (which generally sucked and provoked tears of boredom, akin to what I would hear – decades later – referred to in church choir as “divine filler,” usually in reference to a one-note-Sally-alto part) or tenor.

Playing tenor sax, especially in wind ensemble, where you are one of four in the consort (two altos, a tenor, and a baritone) was formative and amazing for my high school ears.  Maybe it was the way high school band charts were written, but I felt that I was always playing the third, with the root on my right in the bari, and the fifth in the second alto on my left (I didn’t care what the lead player was doing at that point).  I was the center of the freakin universe, and with the tuning pretty much taken care of within that resonant honk of a high school saxophone section, I remember it feeling like I was inside a two ton bubble of vibrating consonance.  It was even better when I was playing a 10th above a Bari below the staff – a spread voicing that I prefer for my final cadences by default.

My high school music program was, and still is, astoundingly good, and has cranked out serious players, conductors, and educators.  In it, I received my first tastes of 20th century music, particularly that of American composers – Ives, Persichetti, Morton Gould – plus Percy Granger, Hindemith, Vaughan Williams, and a smattering of orchestral, and operatic, transcriptions.  I received my first theory, harmony, orchestration, and conducting instruction and experience there, as well as some of the foundations of my current composition practice – improvisation, the organization of sound and silence, and voice leading that led to later counterpoint study – in addition to performance experiences on national stages and in solo and chamber music competition. 

 There have been a few articles floating around this past week about the correlation of “studying music” and “success.” I’m not going to delve too deep into these things, only to say that such speculation is just that, and boils down to an indefensible, self-conscious, and utterly immature argument that still won’t keep the band and chorus programs – let alone private lessons – from getting cut at the primary and secondary level. 

Music didn’t make me a better person, it didn’t make me better at math or science (God knows), and I certainly don’t see myself solving crises in this country or anywhere else because I started honking the same old, Bundy II alto sax warhorse that at least three other siblings, and at least one nephew also started music lessons on. To say otherwise is disingenuous and disrespectful to the private teachers and conductors who pushed me to understand something that’s completely un-understandable simply for the sake of understanding it. 

And with that, #51.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s