More band stuff. Just happened to remember this guy. Probably gonna be remembering him for a long time. Spectacular flute player. Weird guy. Kept sniffling. Coughing. Weird noises. Weird personality.
We went on a field trip – played golf together. Brought us closer. He took on some of my mannerisms – teasing, snappy comebacks – it was like another version of myself. He was really good at playing the flute.
I’ve talked about how our band sucked. Like, above-average levels of sucking – as in, we’re able to suck a volleyball through a garden hose. We – but that’s another story. This one isn’t as depressing – it’s more about how Tommy was the one who broke through the depression. He was the one who tore me into the grizzled 3rd-year clarinet player that I am today.
Our band teacher was retiring. He was pretty old. Got a lot of hate for a lot of different reasons. Bald. Had good intentions – the strive to “bring out the potential” of the band.
However, he was pretty much the worst-case scenario. Everything that could possibly go wrong… Went wrong. Phones in class. Playing while he was talking. Talking while he was talking. Talking back. Not knowing how to play. Playing in the rests. Off tempo. Off tune. Disillusioned classmates. Quitting. More quitting.
And then he went on this 6-month “leave.” 5 substitutes later, and we find one that sticks. He’s Asian. Makes us do more scales than some of us have ever seen in our lives – 6 scales. That’s it. It wasn’t much, but it was telling.
Tommy played it faster than anyone else. In fact, he did it on the first day that the teacher announced it. Without looking at the notes. Without missing a beat. A note here or there, but otherwise flawless. It was a sign of what was to come later on.
The new teacher – obviously, six scales later, we already figured out that he was willing to be much more aggressive with his musical choices.
One shocking discovery after another. Two songs! 2 musical grades above what we’d been playing. For reference, we were playing “grade 2” stuff before. Elementary schools played it better than we did. Now, we were playing “grade 4” music. Actual high school stuff, albeit freshman high school stuff. But it was still better than what we had before.
And oh man, was it a stark contrast to the “step-above hot cross buns” shit we’d been playing. Triplet eighth notes at allegro, at one octave higher. Accidentals included. Breath marks about… when we’re almost dying.
Man, it wasn’t the most challenging piece in the world, but to us, this shit was like Flight of the Bumblebees to a toddler’s mind. Our first few runs, we got lost after 10 measures. Don’t get me started on the actual melody part. 2 measures of that, and the notes were going all over the place. Chaos.
But if you listened carefully – if you focus just hard enough, you could hear the melody playing. You were sure that it wasn’t your mind making it up, because no way were any one of our feeble minds able to comprehend something as fast as eighth notes at allegro, oh no. But faintly, above the chaos; above the common crowd, you could hear a single flute that was hitting every single note. Every single one. It was Tommy. It was amazing. The teacher kept going. Everyone else was hopelessly lost in the sound.
But not Tommy. Tommy kept playing. Tommy was perfect. Everything you could possibly ask for – he had it. If you looked close enough, you could’ve seen a golden aura around him.
This was a true march, we thought to ourselves. This was what we need to be.
And so, for the first, but perhaps the last time, we played the first movement of “English Folk Song Suite,” a grade 4 piece of music. Tommy isn’t here this year, but he’ll live on in our hearts forever.