Musical Experiences: College

Written by Bob McCormick on 4/08/2007 03:07:00 PM

More from the music (band) experience. I already discussed High School , Junior High, and pre-Junior High. this time, it's college!

As I entered my final year at Alief Hastings High School, I faced some final decisions. Musically, as a saxophonist, I was OK - better than some - particularly from smaller states to the direct north east:*), not as good as others. But I also knew that being a musician or a music teacher was not what I wanted as a career (there was no money in it unless you were at the very top in your profession, and the competition was too intense). I decided to cave in and take some private lessons, with the idea that I might make the "All State" band - and if I didn't, I would pursue another profession.

I wound up pursuing another profession.

I already had a backup plan. I had been applying to several different colleges/universities, and was able to score high enough on my SATs such that the University of Houston would take me unconditionally. I had attended an engineering seminar for High School students at UH the previous summer and was already sufficiently impressed with Engineering that I knew that I would major in it, if the saxophone stuff didn't pan out.

Just prior to graduating High School, I had heard about a series of grants that UH's School of Music was releasing. All I had to do was play an introductory piece (something sufficiently technically hard, like the all-state tryout music), not flub it up, and then agree to take marching band in the fall and concert band in the spring. The grant would pay for $100 worth of my tuition - tuition only ran ~$200-250 for a 12 hour course load back then (those were the days!) so the grant actually went a pretty long way. So I tried out, and I was able to score a Band grant!

I joined up with the UH Marching Band that summer (for summer practice - only 2 weeks long). Band was fun, and not difficult to do if you were a decent player in High School. I enjoyed Marching band, and formed many friendships that I keep with me to this day. I even wound up joining the local UH chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi (Band fraternity) my freshman year.

But Marching Band did take a lot of time. It was 6 clock hours in practice over a week (2 hours M/W/F) for a class that was only a 1 hour course credit. This also does not count the football game performances - some of which (TCU, SMU, UT, A&M) were out of town trips - and also did not count summer band and special performances (such as parades). It was a substitute for PE, but most degree programs only needed 2 hours worth of PE, so the other two hours really didn't apply towards getting a degree (and none of the concert band hours applied at all).

It also took quite a bit of "psychological investment". Any time 150-200 18-22 year olds are kept together like that, there are the inevitable gossips of who is dating who, etc. In addition, we lost our Marching Band director between my freshman and sophomore years, and the tension of that loss was not overcome until the incoming band director resigned three years later (some might say it still has not been lost to this day!).

While it was negative in the sense that it ultimately was a distraction from my more serious Engineering studies, it also ultimately allowed me to go to places I probably wouldn't have had the experience to otherwise - it alllowed me to all home games and many of the away games, and bowl games in New York, Tokyo, and El Paso. (Although we did not go to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl while I was in band, the band went the following year while I was still in college - although the football team did not pull off the win.) And as I said before, I met people through tthe marching band experience who remain some of my best friends decades later.

Now, I find myself the father of two sons, neither of which seem to want to pick up horns and play in a band. That's OK - they have to experience their life, not mine. But if they asked me if I would recommend band, I'd say "yes" - but you have to keep your priorities straight. Unless you're the second coming of Stan Getz or John Phillip Sousa, don't take high school or college band too seriously.

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