5th Grade Band.
I thought it sounded like a fantastic opportunity. Learn an instrument. Get involved.
Mind you, being in band or learning to play an instrument is one of those things I never had the chance to do. For that, I have compiled a variety of reasons:
- I went to a small, Catholic school which didn’t offer band (maybe because you’d have to start kids playing in Kindergarten to get enough players to have a band).
- There were 9 kids in my family. Can you imagine the noise that would be created by even half of them practicing an instrument? Good golly. Our house wasn’t big enough – unless Dad cleaned out that little room in the basement that I think housed the firewood (it was always so spooky that I never wanted to really go in it) and made it the “practice room.” Even then it would have been painful.
- Can’t imagine the cost of giving instruments to a bunch of kids either. It would have been a choice of eating or someone getting a trumpet. Personally, I pick eating.
- Sports trumped band growing up.
- Half of us were book geeks as it was. Adding band geekness to the mix would’ve overloaded the system and caused all sorts of social issues.
We did have (and my parents still own) an organ, which oldest sister, Julie, had lessons on as a kid. I don’t think they lasted that long. What did last were the music sheets her teacher gave her (my girls were looking at them recently) and that organ.
Every kid – sibling and next generation – has banged away on that organ over the years. Every kid has heard the others in the room trying to watch tv yell, “put the earphones on or turn it off!” Every kid has dutifully put on the circa-1977 mossy green giant headphones and plugged it into the organ so they could continue with their “music”.
Maybe that explains why no one else was able to take up an instrument. You can’t put headphones on when playing a flute or tuba.
So, there I was, eagerly sitting in the 5th Grade Band information session where the music teachers would let you know which instrument would be best for your student.
There was a part of me that didn’t know if there was some unwritten code of coolness based on what band instrument you played that I needed to worry about for my daughter’s future social happiness. Did clarinet players pick on flute players because their flutes were so small? Were tuba players tops over trumpets? Did percussion kids pick on everyone else because they had the sticks in their hands all of the time? It was like waiting for the jury to come back in a big trial…
The final verdict for Maddie’s skills and physical abilities – Clarinet.
Again, not sure if good or bad in band hierarchy, but overall I have only good feelings about clarinet as an instrument so I took it as good news.
And then I saw the instrument prices.
“No worries!” said the teacher. “Monthly rentals are great! It’s a rent-to-own system, too!”
“Don’t forget to get the monthly insurance policy – only $4 a month protects your instrument should you lose it on the bus or it is taken!”
Quick mental math told me that the instrument my 10-year-old child would need would cost over $600.
She’s a responsible, thoughtful child.
I know she’s very mature.
But a $600 instrument?! I thought that I’d have to buy a set of handcuffs and clip that instrument case onto her wrist every time she set foot out of this house to keep it safe.
(I also started to wonder if there was a black market for hot 5th grade band instruments. Do you really need to worry about getting jumped on the way to school for your clarinet?)
I took a deep breath, got through the meeting and came home to investigate my options. I took an informal poll amongst my friends about whether they rented or purchased the instrument for their child if they went down the band path. It was split fairly evenly.
What was also split fairly evenly was the number of people who said that their child gave up playing soon after they finished the rent-to-own plan and purchased their instrument.
I made a mental note to tell Maddie that she’ll need to play her clarinet until she’s 40. Then she’ll have to pass it down to her daughter and her granddaughter so that we get our money’s worth out of this investment.
I knew that some of my siblings had kids who went down this path. Most famously was my oldest sister, Julie, who didn’t push her son to play organ but instead let him try out the saxophone. (You’ll have to excuse me if I have told this story before, but it is legendary in the family.) Little Daniel was so excited to show the huge extended family how he could play that he gave all of us (like 30 people in our family at the time) a performance at Christmas that year. He played as any kid just learning an instrument would play – a little screechy, but you knew he was practicing hard. All of the adults clapped and said encouraging words. Then little Alex, probably around 5 years old, gave his opinion by putting his hand up to his mouth like a little megaphone.
The adults tried to stop Alex, but it was too late. Daniel was crushed. The saxophone hung limply from his neck. He never picked it up again.
(Maybe a monthly rental wouldn’t be such a bad idea…)
Still, I thought I would put the word out that I was looking for a clarinet. Lucky for me, Jacque went the purchase route when Megan played the clarinet and they just found her instrument while cleaning out a closet. A check and cleaning by friends who own a music store in town and we had ourselves an instrument.
So, we are ready to be band geeks with whatever that may entail. I may need to liquidate my retirement if they spring anymore financial surprises on my, but we’re ready.
And since you can’t put headphones on a clarinet, we’ll just need to make some space on the farm for Maddie to practice. I’m thinking the playhouse might be a great practice space if it isn’t too cold out.
Otherwise, Zoe and I might need to borrow some of the Country Boy’s ear plugs until her lessons get into full swing.
And no family Christmas concerts for a few years….I don’t want to take any chances.