I remember sitting on the grass surrounded by various instrumental sounds–a trumpet here, a violin there, a clarinet in the distance. Then there were the halls, where in complete silence you could hear the muffled pianos in the practice rooms, the melodic singing, the smooth sound of a cello. Every Tuesday and every Thursday, entire evenings—too much, perhaps, for a seven year old.
This constituted four years of my life at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City. Not that I produced any of the musical sounds—rather my sister had the classes and my brother and I just came along with my mother. For us this was “park time” out in the grass followed by quiet homework time in the silent halls. It was in this place that I was first introduced to the idea of actually learning to play an instrument, and my instrument of choice at the time was the string bass. However, I was unable to start at the conservatory until the fifth grade and by that time I had moved to the United States. Starting in the fifth grade in Texas public schools, orchestra classes were available and so my mother signed me up to play the violin, her favorite instrument. Although I wanted the bass, I conformed to the violin with the idea that I would eventually change instruments after starting my first year with the violin. The first day of class, however, led me to think that I had sealed my fate as I realized different instruments require different techniques and different clefs! And thus, to my fifth grade mind, I could not possibly learn another way of reading music once I learned the violin way—that would become too confusing. And so fifth grade passed and come sixth grade, I remained in the orchestra playing the violin. I am proud to say, however, that by the end of fifth grade I had learned that different instruments may share the same clef and thus I had signed up for the middle school band to play the oboe.
My oboe experiences were filled with embarrassment and disillusion as many times I simply could not get a single note out and most of the time I just fingered along, pretending I could play. Disillusionment came even when I managed to get a sound out as it was untrained and, plainly put, ugly. This short paragraph thus parallels my experience with the oboe—ephemeral and leaving much wished for.
After sixth grade I quit the band but remained in the orchestra until high school. The All-Region competition gave my orchestra experience a new challenge that I pursued all four years of my high school career. Playing surrounded by the best players in the region was inspiration for improvement and each year I worked harder to make it higher up in the sittings. At the same time, I was introduced to a different manner of experiencing music—the Academic Decathlon.
Throughout my years in the Academic Decathlon, I favored the music section due to its expansive approach to the subject. The section provided not only an introduction to music theory but also specific pieces that were analyzed in terms of motifs, rhythm, instrumentation, style, among others. The part of the section I preferred, however, was the history behind the composer, the style and genre, and the piece itself that combined to provide a deeper understanding of the work and the context. It was then that I realized that what I liked most about music was not performing it or even listening to it but rather learning about it and its significance. My experiences, from fifth grade orchestra to short lived band to academic decathlon, have taught me different aspects of music and a different appreciation for it.