April 18, 2011

For Beth R-C

I had just read your message on my phone while sitting outside. I sat back to think about how I would respond to you when I heard a flute being practiced from a nearby open window. This was an extreme beginner--his or her embouchure has a long way to go. I could hear the breathy shrills forced out of the instrument as the player strove for those upper register notes. I wondered wistfully what happened to my flute and thought vaguely about looking for a second-hand one to play around with. Then I had a random memory that I thought you would appreciate.

It was summer 1991--my freshman year of band camp. I was excited to be there, eager to please, and immensely terrified around everyone older than me. (And so titillated by the drumline! Mark A., Eli, Jeff P., Jeff B....) Mr. Christian assigned everyone to have "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" memorized by a specific date, and asked the section leaders to make sure this happened.

The afternoon before the memorization was supposed to occur, Jodie R. (with you as her assistant, I believe!) let us slide by having us flutes and piccolos play it together as a group rather than to go through the mortifying experience of playing it solo, one-by-one. I was so relieved, but somehow not moved to go home and practice.

The next afternoon while practicing our half-time show, Mr. Christian decided to test out the new, allegedly memorized "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." We stood in formation at the end of "El Tigre" and Christelle start counted us off. Andy W.'s trumpet solo was excellent and the drummers played well; most everyone else in the band faked the song and snuck covert looks at one another. I felt so guilty for not learning it, and prayed no one would notice ME above everyone else. Above the noise of the drumline directly behind me at the 50 yard line, the captain Stephen H. screamed at the other drummers, "CAN ANYBODY HEAR THE GODDAMNED BAND!?"

I froze in terror, my fingers still arched in position to play a random b-flat. They knew I didn't know the song! The entire drumline, 75% of whom I had a crush on, KNEW I WAS FAKING "BOOGIE WOOGIE BUGLE BOY"! FROM COMPANY C!

That night, I took home my sheet music and piccolo and learned the entire song. By bedtime I was playing it with gusto and relishing the trills. Mr. Christian cast the song aside in frustration, but I knew the song! Sometimes when I am anxious, I still flex through the fingerings in my mind.

I swear I could still play it if I picked up a flute.

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