Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Band Rivalries

One of the main plot points in BAND GEEK is the narrator, Melinda's, ongoing rivlary with fellow flutist, Kathy. While the idea of musicians fighting over first chair may seem silly, let me tell you, the world of music can be pretty competitive.

I was never bullied in high school to the extent that Mel is my novel, but I did have a band rival and there was fierce competition in the flute section. It was so stressful at times that I felt as if I were playing a sport rather than playing in the wind ensemble.

The rivalry mainly took place during my freshman year. To backtrack a bit, I was the best flute player in junior high. I was first chair and scored an A in the highest level of NY's statewide competition, NYSSMA. Meanwhile, the girl who was first chair flute in our sister junior high also scored an A at that level. She was a brilliant performer and completely deserved it.

Once we entered high school, the students from the two junior highs joined together. That year, we happened to have a fantastic flute section. There were five of us who played at a professional level. Naturally that girl and I competed for first chair and she won. I got second chair. No big surprise, she was better than me. But rather than turn us into a team, say, have us play duets together, our conductor, who was a loud, brash man, turned us -- and the other four players -- against one another. He attempted to have us play some chamber music pieces, but would always tell each girl how some other flutist was better than her. I think he believed that this would motivate us, but we were a bunch of teenagers! It just made us angry with each other. I even overheard my rival say that she hated me. Ouch! I'll admit, I said some not-very-nice things about her, too. Neither of us were bad people, but we were driven to it by stress.

Things came to a head when another flute player -- who was a friend of mine -- asked if she could switch from the B group to the more advanced A group. She didn't ask for first chair. She didn't ask to move up a space. She simply wanted to play some more challenging music in sectionals. However, our conductor took her request as a call to war and made every flute re-audition for seats in a blind audition (he sat and listened from his office so he couldn't see who was playing). I got second chair. My rival got third. My friend shocked everyone by getting first! The other three talented players got seats four-six.

Our conductor still wasn't satisfied and made the six of us audition again. Only this time, he handed us a very difficult piece, gave us two weeks to learn it and made us audition with it in front of the entire band. Call it hazing for musicians.

For the next two weeks, I lived and breathed that stupid piece that had fast runs and a ridiculous section full of maddening octave jumps. When the day of the audition arrived, I volunteered to go first. This way, I could get it over with. Our conductor offered to let us play sitting down with our back turned to the band, but I refused to do that. If he wanted to publicly humiliate us, I wouldn't let him. Instead, I decided to turn this audition into a performance. I stood and faced the band as I played.

It wasn't my best performance as it was a bit rushed, but I hit every note correctly and plowed right through the octave jumps. Still, I was nervous that I'd get the lowest chair out of the bunch. I sat and waited to see how everyone else would do.

One by one, each flute player took her spot ...and fell apart. Everyone was getting tripped up by those octave jumps. These girls were all amazing players. I couldn't believe it.

My friend went last -- and was fantastic. She nailed it and I was thrilled for her. She got what she deserved: first chair, and I was second. We remained first and second, respectively, through senior year and through different conductors, but it was never a rivalry. We had the same private flute teacher so we often played duets together and even got an A in competition. She also made a point to split the flute solos in pieces so that I got to play a few. We encouraged each other and both became better players since we had each other's backs. THIS is what our conductor should have been doing with us in the first place. Competition can be very healthy, but not when it turns something wonderful like music into a battle.

Anyway, the point of this long-winded (or should that be wood-winded?) story is that I thought it would be interesting to write about a musical rivalry. In Mel's case, I took the competition to the next level with her actually plotting REVENGE against her nemesis. I had a good time imagining "What ifs?" when crafting her and Josh's schemes and was surprised myself by the extent of Melinda's bloodlust!

By college, I stopped being so competitive in music and just played for fun. But my high school band experience stuck with me -- and I hope that Melinda's experience strikes a chord with you.

Please check out and review my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

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