And the Band Plays On

Goofing off  in the pit orchestra for West Side Story

I learned piano at age seven, but when I was given the choice of instruments in 6th grade, I chose the oboe. I wanted to be the duck from Peter and the Wolf, its voice charming and independent.

The first year was tough, spending hours bent over beginner books, memorizing fingerings, frustrated I couldn’t play as swiftly as my hands dancing over piano keys. The sound was there, I heard it maturing underneath the surface, hiding behind inexperience, a natural vibrato lingering over notes.

Then I met Mr. Herbert. My parents decided I earned the privilege of private instruction after a year of dedication. Nerves and anxiety crowded his small, musty studio.  A workroom layered in sheet music, reed making tools, instruments and recordings. The sweet smell of wood and oil filled every corner. We sat side by side, elbows brushing, sharing music together.

For nine years our passions intermingled. I accepted a music scholarship at the same university Mr. Herbert was hired, relieved to prolong our goodbyes. He became my best friend and confidant. He knew my friends, how school was going, what boys I was interested in and how things were with my parents. Our lessons were intact, productive, but he always made time when we were done. He was like another father, and I wanted to make him proud.

My sophomore year of college I began to struggle. My emotions were all over the place; head and heart in constant conflict. Mr. Herbert and I talked less, friction surfaced. By the end of that year I changed majors from Music to English but kept playing for the department and taking lessons. The lessons were strained; his disappointment did not go unnoticed. I was making crazy decisions I would later regret, decisions that pushed me into a tailspin for the next 6 years.

Finally, I got married at the age of 22 and dropped out of school. By then Mr. Herbert had been in my life for eleven years. It broke my heart to say goodbye. I tried going back to school briefly while I was pregnant with The Tortoise, slipped silently into the music department to feel the comfort of performing again. Our paths crossed a few times, but as soon as I went into early labor, school was over. I was twenty-five. I never went back to the music department, graduating several years later, clutching a bitter-sweet English degree.

Mr. Herbert and I last spoke thirteen years ago, but not a day has gone by that I haven’t felt his presence in some way. I may have given up a music degree, but I never gave up the oboe. I’ve played for both professional and community bands or orchestras, as well as taught off and on over the years. The drop of potential he saw in me grew into a fountain of creativity. He taught me how to listen to myself, and although I stopped listening for a while, I did eventually find my own voice again.

This week’s RemembeRed memoir prompt asked us to write about a mentor, someone who guided or inspired us. How did this mentor impact our life? Word limit 500.

7 thoughts on “And the Band Plays On

  1. Music does something to people. I can’t imagine being an instructor, what that must feel like. I played the drums, but I remember the smell of wood and oil in the band room closets. I only had male instructors, so i can picture him.
    He must have been disappointed, if you were making bad decisions, but that (IMO) tells me how much he loved you. How much he wanted for you.
    This felt so bittersweet, I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed what it brought back to me.
    Came from TRDC linkup.

  2. I would love to hear you play the oboe. I never learned to play and instrument but wish I had. Oh how we need more teachers like Mr. Herbert to show students they have potential to reach for the stars.

  3. This is so transparent and true- your passion shines right through your words and has left with chills, and lots of them!

    My husband is a musician, too. And he chose a different career path as well. He feels this. I see it in his eyes when he explains music to our kids.

    I adore the way you wove your passions and your mentor’s and the friction that was because of differences.

    So the way it is, isn’t it?

    Beautiful post friend, as always.

  4. Oh how I wished I had taken up an instrument past the first 2 years of piano. This post reminded me of that latent desire.
    My favorite line: The drop of potential he saw in me grew into a fountain of creativity. Beautiful imagery! Well done.

  5. Beautiful! I like this one especially as I’m a musician myself. I originally wanted to play the flute, but I didn’t have my front teeth so I ended up playing the violin, and I took up the flute again two years later. Now I play both to the same grade.
    I’ve always wanted to have a go at the oboe, but I don’t think I could cope with a reed. Plus, oboes are so expensive! But I’d like to try one someday. I’d also like to learn the harp and the accordion 🙂

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