Playing for Keeps

Marnie - Batavia, Illinois
Entered on June 15, 2007

I was not the best flute player in the band.

But I had a great tone.

“How’d you get that sound?” my fourth grade band director asked me.

I shrugged. Too shy to answer, I only knew I loved the beauty of my silver flute and the music that came out of it. For some reason, I sounded good.

Like most young children, however, I did not like to practice. At least not in the conventional sense. My idea of practicing was to play all the beautiful songs I knew. I did not want to go through the monotony of scales, octaves, and repetitious drills.

Although this mode of practicing gave me great joy, it did not bode well with my flute teacher. Week after week my ten-year-old self showed up unable to play what she had assigned me.

As I attempted to sight read the exercises, tears of frustration streamed down my cheeks as my teacher scolded me for yet another unprepared lesson. In my youthful enthusiasm, I overlooked the drills in favor of the song.

That probably sums up my outlook on life.

Nevertheless, I kept at it. In junior high and high school, when the troubles of alcoholism and financial reversal invaded my home, my flute was my salvation. Arriving home from school, I gently lifted it off the fireplace mantle where I kept it and started to play.

Somehow, it seemed to sing for me. The music of Bach and Beethoven plus the sweet melodies of old hymns calmed my heart and allowed my adolescent anguish to give forth expression.

Despite my unconventional practicing, love of my flute propelled me to enter the district solo contest each year in high school. Yet, my fear of failure and own self doubt sabotaged my efforts every time.

To add to my insecurities, my accompanist played straight through the piece like a race horse running her own race. It didn’t matter if I kept up with her tempo or not. On she plunged leaving me in the dust.

My senior year was my last chance for redemption. I changed accompanist.

In our first run through of the piece, my new accompanist stayed with me. She bobbed her head as I played, indicating I was on track. The first words out of her mouth when we finished were, “My, you have a beautiful tone.”

No one had said that to me for a long time. My spirit soared. My confidence bloomed.

“Let’s take it from the top,” she said. And we did.

Her gentle suggestions accompanied by sweet praise made all the difference in the world. I began to believe in myself knowing that someone else believed in me.

When the dreaded contest date arrived, I not only had the flu, but a deep cough, laryngitis and a fever of 102. My accompanist said no problem.

It was the best performance I ever gave. I scored a first.

I believe in the power of encouragement. Like the lovely lyrical grace notes in a Mozart sonata, encouraging words offer a lilting lift out of doubting doldrums. I know they did for me.

Forty years later, my flute still sings.