December 2008

Got a letter from my alma mater (Mansfield University in PA) a couple weeks ago inviting me to a wind ensemble reunion concert. It would be a full day of rehearsal on Saturday, a rehearsal Sunday morning, and then a concert Sunday afternoon. I debated. I had been planning to attend ASP.NET Code Camp (geeky computer stuff) in Harrisburg on Saturday. Hmmm. But wait. Mansfield was bringing Mr. Stanley back to direct the band. Done deal. I was going to the wind ensemble reunion.

Seventeen years ago (eek!) I arrived at Mansfield as a freshman music major and tried out on saxophone for the wind ensemble. I made it…4th in the line up. That meant I played bari sax – 2 on alto, one on tenor, and me on bari. I had never played bari before. I got my own mouthpiece and reeds and used the school’s horn. I sat down in the first rehearsal for wind ensemble and couldn’t get a note out of the beast. I faked it through the entire rehearsal. Next rehearsal I got a few notes out. Three weeks into it I was playing most of the time but still not sounding great. That week my roommate was thrown out of rehearsal by Mr. Stanley for not being able to play her third clarinet part. I locked myself in the practice room that weekend and came to terms with the bari.

Mr. Stanley made it clear from the beginning what he expected – your absolute best playing, utmost attention, total preparation. Don’t even think of yawning during wind ensemble. You could get thrown out for that too. That meant you were bored and not giving your best. As a freshman struggling with playing a horn for the first time, it was all pretty intimidating. And yet, Mr. Stanley was one of the four reasons I decided to attend Mansfield. He was demanding and I liked that. While many directors are thrilled when the band gets the correct notes and rhythms, Mr. Stanley rarely even touched on those. You were expected to work out that basic stuff yourself. In his rehearsals we learned to blend and bring out the nuances and subtleties in the music. I was totally bummed when he retired at the end of my freshman year.

View from Butler Music building on Mansfield University campus
One of the reasons I chose to go to college at Mansfield – the location

Fortunately, the other 3 reasons I went to Mansfield remained. First was the location…in the middle of nowhere! I’ve never been a city person. I don’t like crowds or lots of commotion. Mansfield was perfect. There were only 3,000 students at Mansfield. And when school was in session, the town population doubled.

Mr. Stanley and Dr. Galloway
Mr. Stanley and Dr. Galloway

The other two reasons were Dr. Galloway, the trumpet and jazz band professor, and Dr. Murphy, the sax professor. I had gotten a taste of their teaching when I attended summer music camp at Mansfield. And they were a good fit with my style of learning. Little did I know what lay in store for the next four years. A lot of it came back to me this past weekend.

I arrived on Friday early evening, checked into the hotel and headed over to Wellsboro where I spent a lot of my time during and after college. I stopped in to see the family I lived with for some of my college days – Mimi and Derek and their 6 kids. Only two of the youngest are still at home. Ahhhh! When I was there, the oldest was 12 and the youngest was 3. Now the oldest is in graduate school and the youngest is in 10th grade and barely remembers me. :-( I spent the evening chatting with Mimi and Derek. Derek tried hard to make me a risk management specialist in the local county government. Had he offered 2 years ago I probably would have jumped at the chance to move back up there.

Back to the hotel Friday night and up Saturday morning to play…bari…in a band that…Mr. Stanley…would be conducting. Oh my. Deja vu. I had no idea what shape the school bari was in. I’m not one who can just blow past leaks in a horn like some people. I need it to be in good condition to sound decent. But then again, I haven’t played hardly at all in the past year so what difference would it make. I just prayed I didn’t get thrown out of rehearsal. :-D

Mr. Stanley took it easy on us. He understood that many of us don’t play on a daily basis any more. He even had some pretty good lines:

“Musical maturity makes up for a lot of physical deficiencies.” Yeah, I was understanding that one pretty well. Took me half the morning to get my embouchure back. It was like riding a bike though. By concert time I was doing wheelies.

Dave and Sharon
Dave and Sharon

There were only 3 of us there that were at Mansfield in the 90′s. Dave (another sax major) and I graduated in ’95 and Sharon (flute major who married Dave) graduated in ’97. Dave and I reminisced about some of the great times we had as a part of the sax studio:

Going on a sax quartet tour using Dr. Murphy’s car and driving down a highway the wrong way (not sure we ever told Dr. Murphy about that!) and then finding out why we were having problems seeing once it got dark – the headlights barely shined through all the dirt and salt caked over them.

The jazz band tour where we were snowed in on the first day of the tour. And that’s all I’m saying about that!

The jazz band performance during Halloween at the coffee house on campus. Classic. Dr. Galloway showed up in this Fruit of the Loom style costume – he was a bunch of grapes. He used purple balloons for the grapes, wore green tights, and had a big ol’ green leaf draped over his head. It’s not easy playing saxophone while you’re trying not to laugh. I still can’t look at him 15 years later without at least cracking a smile.

So we rehearsed all Saturday and then went to an alumni dinner. Chatted with the people at our table about some of the more memorable professors. Mr. Rusk with orchestration and piano classes, the Wunderlichs {shudder}, Mr. Hill in eurythmics class (scarey, scarey class!), Hector (the violin teacher. I don’t even remember his real name. We just called him Hector), Mr. Owens, and darned if any of us could remember what the heck the music therapy prof’s name was.

Sunday morning I got up early and went for a run on one of my old favorite routes. It was here at Mansfield that I started running…an effort to take off the freshman 15lbs. I just ran a marathon a few weeks ago but running in Mansfield took me back to when I was thrilled that I had made it 5 times around the recreation center basketball court without stopping, then running outside for the first time and making it 10 minutes. Then the 2 mile routes. And the 3 miles routes. I was elated the first time I actually ran 5 miles without walking. I still have the 2 tapes I played in my Walkman to keep me pumped up – Mr. Marks’ trumpet and vocal tape he made with his wife and Glad’s Symphony Project. And the hills….I was in heaven. I loved running the back dirt roads, over the hills around Mansfield. They don’t make hills like that down here in Annville and Grantville.

Then on to a short rehearsal and the concert in the afternoon. It was great playing in a good sounding band again. While you’re in college, you don’t realize how spoiled you are getting to play with good players. Or that once you leave the confines of college where you have to audition to get into the groups, playing with good groups may be few and far between. I didn’t realize I missed that. I’d pretty much given up playing in the community bands lately because it gets frustrating going over the same mistakes every week for the same players. It was so nice playing in a group where the right notes and rhythms are taken for granted and the focus is on making music….even if just briefly.

Drove back home thinking of the weekend, of college days, where I’m at now, and wondering where I’m going. I’ve got my 5 year plan but who knows how it will really turn out. Hopefully, it’ll continue to unfold right here on this blog.