Tooting My Own Horn

06/23/2015 - 5:45am
I gave up playing a musical instrument — until I walked into beginning band my freshman year.

Rachel Chabin, the author, with her beloved clarinet. Courtesy Yash Sharma

My first stint with instrumental music was back in elementary school. Every few days, a group of students would be escorted down a flight of stairs, past the clanking boiler and into our teacher’s basement classroom. For a year I took great pride in what I thought was my prowess with the recorder, managing to play a small, simplified part of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” Once I moved up to playing the flute, however, my enthusiasm for band stalled and I struggled to play even the simplest notes. In middle school — where we didn’t have any music program — I forgot about my wind instrument experience, convinced I wasn’t cut out to be a musician after all.

Fast-forward to my first day of freshman year. I’m clutching my schedule tightly as I wander through the second-floor hallway, searching the doors for number 243. I find it at the far end of the hall, near the side exit and go inside nervously. I’m met with the sight of about 60 chairs arranged in a horseshoe around the conductor’s stand. Despite my greatest efforts, I can’t think of any way to erase “Beginning Band” from period eight on my new program, and so I resignedly took a seat and listened to my new teacher talk to us about choosing an instrument. Above all, he said, we are not to choose an instrument we’ve played before; it would prevent us from experiencing band from scratch. Knowing I’d never get away with choosing the flute, I picked the instrument that looked the most like a recorder: the clarinet.

During those first few days, I consoled myself by remembering I could transfer after a year. After a couple of weeks, quitting never crossed my mind. In band I found a community of passionate musicians who wanted to make something beautiful and were willing to play their hearts out in every rehearsal. To my astonishment, I learned something about myself as well: I got more pleasure out of playing the clarinet than nearly anything else. With my instrument and enough effort, any type of music — from old Yiddish melodies to pop songs to classical arrangements — is fair game. (Another key discovery: recorders and clarinets are not the same. Luckily for me, I fell in love with my clarinet’s sound and never wanted to go back to that plastic recorder.)

I recently completed my senior year of high school. In these four years, I’ve moved from my teacher’s beginner class to the advanced concert band, and I led the clarinet section. In May I had the chance to do even more than play. During our spring concert I put down my clarinet — to pick up the conductor’s baton. While my music teacher made a rare cameo as a performer, he gave me the chance to lead the band I’ve come to love.

author's bio: 
Rachel Chabin is a graduate of Townsend Harris High School in Flushing, N.Y. She will be attending Stony Brook University on Long Island and hopes to continue playing music in the school’s wind ensemble.