Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Playing the Glockenspiel........

When I was in middle school, I got the bug to play in the band when everyone else did. I (sort of) played the piano, but it wasn't practical to play that in the marching band. And being in the marching band was a big deal. They had a big parent meeting at the school, representatives from the companies that sold instruments were there, and students who had aspirations for playing in the high school band got their start.

I either chose clarinet or was assigned it, and my mother began a payment plan to purchase (lease?) the clarinet. It is only now that I can appreciate what a sacrifice that was for a single mom. I stuck with it that year, but I also continued piano lessons, and there was a point at which I had to choose one or the other. We simply could not afford both, and I chose piano. I'm not sure why, since I still couldn't tote it on the football field, but I guess I felt that I owed my allegiance to the piano.

Fast forward to high school, specifically tenth grade. Some really cool kids were in the marching band, including the boy I had a crush on for most of high school. And college. And then some. Right up to the night I went to his wedding. Anyway.... I wanted to be in the band, but my clarinet experience was now four or five years old. There was no way I could hope to play in the band.

Then I discovered the glockenspiel.

I had never considered the glockenspiel (also called the bells - I know it looks like a xylophone, but they are very different), because I didn't realize how the instrument was set up. If you turn it on its side, the keys are laid out just like those on a piano. The keys on the left in the image above would be the black keys; the ones on the right would be the white ones. Now THIS I could do.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you what initiated this interest in the glockenspiel, since I wasn't really even aware of its existence. The boy who played the ONE glockenspiel in our school's band was the son of one of our most beloved teachers, and he was killed in a car accident when I was in ninth grade. Donations were made to the school in his memory, and the money was used to purchase a brand new glockenspiel for the band. A plate dedicating the instrument to his memory was attached to the top of it, and suddenly I wanted to be the next person who played it.

I auditioned for the band, was accepted despite my failure to pay attention to the key signature in the piece of music I was asked to sight-read, and attended summer band camp, marching in the scorching Georgia sun and loving every minute of it. Well, mostly I loved the mid-week trip to Six Flags over Georgia, but I liked the rest of it too.

There were times I wished I had stuck with clarinet. The glockenspiel is no piece of cake to march with. There is a metal pole in the middle which can be released, and I had to wear a jock-strap looking contraption to hold the instrument up, and I had to use my left hand to hold it in the back. All our music had to be memorized, since the remaining hand was used to strike the keys. And on the night when they turned out the lights and the majorettes twirled fire, the glockenspiel was the only instrument that could not be played in the dark. We wound up waiting until the lights went out, then turning around backward and kneeling, using the reflection of the fire in the silver keys to show us where to strike.

I say "we" because another glockenspiel player, Mary Beth, was a ninth grader, and she played it too. She was a sweet girl, and in addition to being my partner on the glockenspiel, she also stole my boyfriend away from me. Not the one I had a crush on - we were never actually "boyfriend/girlfriend." I wrote about him before - Figment. One day in band class Mary Beth had the audacity to go to the orthodontist, so I was the only player on bells that day. We were trying out a new piece - must have been somewhere between marching season and festival. I should have had a clue when the title of the piece was something like "March of the Bells" or "Bell Song" or "yada yada yada Bells." My mind wasn't on what I was doing, and I zoned out. My eyes glazed over, and I was far, far away, oblivious of everything around me.

In the middle of the song there was absolute, dead silence, then the roar of everyone else in the band. The silence was a bell solo, and the only remaining glockenspiel player was somewhere with her head in the clouds. Damn that Mary Beth for going to the orthodontist anyway. I can still feel the embarrassment at being caught daydreaming in such a public way. But it was high school, so everything was major.

It's a wonder I have any hearing left at all. I sat next to Mary Beth, of course, and the only way I knew to play ANY musical instrument was all-out. Loud. Fierce. In addition to the two sets of bells, the trumpets were on my right, and the percussion section was right behind me.

Wait....what did you say?

No one marches with a glockenspiel anymore, and I'm intensely jealous. At some point since I graduated from high school, they moved the bells, the xylophone, the marimba, and all associated percussion/keyboard instruments down to the field with the rest of the percussion section, which suddenly became sexy. Drums aren't just to keep the beat anymore. The percussionists don't march, and they typically have their own solo pieces in any halftime show. The buttheads.

I only played the glockenspiel that one year, tenth grade. The band director had approved the formation of a drill team, and my two friends that I spent the weekend with two weeks ago were both on it. They got to wear shiny, white, patent-leather, knee-high boots and wear little dresses and do cute little routines with chairs, balloons, flashlights, and pompoms. I had to have me some of those boots.

Plus we still got to go to Six Flags and do other things with the cool kids in the band.

Every now and then I hear one of the songs we played that year as part of our halftime show (always on an oldies station, of course). I'm transported back to the summer and fall that I marched with my glockenspiel, and I can still remember some parts of the musical scores. 

I wonder if I can find a glockenspiel on eBay.......

1 comment:

Kelly said...

I read this with total fascination. Believe it or not, I always wanted to play the glockenspiel when I was a teenager. I'm impressed that you did.