Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘symphonic band

About to Play a Concert

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Tonight, I will take another step toward reclaiming my musical abilities by playing my clarinet with the University of Wisconsin-Community Band.

“But Barb,” you longtime readers of my blog may be saying.  “You’ve played concerts with them before.  What’s the big deal?”

Well, last year I played my alto saxophone in several concerts with the Community Band — a symphonic band made up of various community members from the Racine, Kenosha, and Northern Illinois areas.  I played several solos, including a memorable, lengthy one on “Roma” (a piece inspired by the Romani, or Gypsies).  But in some ways, playing the saxophone is easier on my bad hands than is the clarinet.

Consider, please, that it took two rounds of occupational therapy in 2011 to bring my hands and wrists back to the point that I could play at all.  (I have carpal tunnel syndrome, though I try not to make a big deal of it.)  That’s why I wanted to play more saxophone than clarinet, as saxophone is easier on the wrists due to the fact the alto saxophone is played by using a neckstrap to take the weight of the instrument off both hands and wrists.

I wasn’t sure what could be done to help my hands with the clarinet, but fortunately Steve Schoene of Racine’s own Schmitt Music had the answer.  Schoene told me about the Clarichord, which is somewhat like a neckstrap but does not require a hole to be drilled in the clarinet and a ring installed . . . instead, it wraps around the thumb rest, and seals with a velcro closure around the neck.

Voila!  I was able to play my clarinet far more easily, and without anywhere near as much pain and strain.

Still, two-plus hour rehearsals seemed beyond me, which is why playing the saxophone in both Community Band and the Racine Concert Band seemed like the best course unless a clarinet player was truly needed.

However, my hands have improved enough that I asked to play clarinet in the Community Band.  I am playing the first part, which is the most wide-ranging and difficult (for the most part), and I have several solos in a piece by Ingolf Dahl called “Sinfonietta for Band.”

These solos are challenging and require all of my thought and energy.  Which is why when we had our dress rehearsal last night, I came home drained — thus was unable to blog about tonight’s concert as I’d hoped.

It’s rather late for most people in the Racine, Kenosha and Northern Illinois area to decide to go out to Parkside for a concert.  (For those of you not from this area, Parkside is somewhat between the cities of Racine and Kenosha, and is located next to a scenic park.  Thus the name.)  Plus, it’s cold, windy, and worst of all, it’s Tuesday — not on a weekend, when we might have a bit more people willing to brave the elements to come see a live concert with real, live adult performers.

Still.  The concert starts at 7:30 p.m.  It’s now 6:20.  If you live within forty-five minutes of Parkside, you can still make it — and if you want to see the Community Band perform, we are second on the program, not first.  (Which means you don’t have to break all speed limits in order to get to the show on time if you want to see us perform.)

For those of you who don’t live in the area, or who cannot attend the concert, please wish me well.  This certainly is the most challenging work I’ve played in at least twenty years — and it would’ve been a beast to play even before my hands started acting up fifteen years ago.

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By the way . . . I always tag my late husband’s name with regards to something like this.  Michael didn’t get a chance to hear me play live in concert.  He did hear me practice many times, but that’s not necessarily the same thing.

It depends on what you think happens after the body dies as to whether or not you believe my husband has finally been able to hear me play in concert or not.  But I like to think that he does hear it, wherever he is, and that he’s happy I’m making the attempt.  Because if any part of him still exists, he has to know that me continuing onward with my hands and wrists like this is far from easy . . . but this is a big part of who I am.

He’d be happy I’m continuing to try, even though it’s painful and much more difficult than it used to be for me to play either the clarinet or the saxophone.

And I think he’d get a kick out of the fact that I have solos, too.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 19, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Just Played in my First Band Rehearsal in at Least 10 Years

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As the heading says . . . I went out tonight and played my saxophone during a rehearsal of the local community band.  This is the first rehearsal in over ten years of any group whatsoever I’ve attended, mostly because my hands were not strong enough to sustain the strain of holding the instrument, much less fingering it, in all that time.

The main reason I decided to start playing in a band again after all this time is that I now can practice, on average, three times weekly for at least forty-five minutes (the high, so far, being about an hour and a half) without hurting my hands or wrists in any way.  (They ache, but I can use them, and I can live with that.)   The secondary reason is that in the last year, I’ve gone through two rounds of occupational therapy for my hands and wrists, which helped immensely.  So now, I can play again.

I am aware that in many senses, I’m very fortunate; I have carpal tunnel syndrome, but I have never lost the ability to type.  Most people with this condition do, whereas instead I merely lost some speed.  The OT helped me regain some of my overall typing speed, too, so it was extremely beneficial overall.

Now, as to how I played?  As you might expect, I certainly was nowhere near top form; I kept getting thrown off by other people’s sense of time and meter, and my own hands kept betraying me now and again (they wanted to slide off the keys, a big no-no that I knew was likely to happen due to the stress of doing something for the first time — even though it’s not, exactly).  But I followed the music, and knew what it was supposed to do; next time, I hope to play a solo part or two (within the context of the band pieces, not in front of the band), and I will practice the toughest parts (and of course the solo parts, too) so when I go back to rehearsal in two weeks (the next rehearsal, for a concert in December), I will be prepared and ready to lead the saxophone section.

Tonight, everything that I’d hoped for didn’t happen — my hands ached and weren’t doing what I wanted and needed them to do all the time (though they worked at least 85% of the time, and I’d actually expected worse — sight-reading music always means you’re going to make mistakes, and because my hands aren’t totally right (and will never be right again, I’m sorry to say), that just adds to any sight-reading mistakes I’d be likely to have anyway.

But my rhythmic sense was good; my sound was good; my intonation, mostly, was good.  (That last is an upper-level skill.  Mine is where it should be right now, and I can match pitches with other people, but I’m not where I would be in top form, no.  Will it affect me playing in a band, though?  Nope.)  And I had enough energy to get through an hour and fifteen minutes of rehearsal (it was a “short” rehearsal this week, mostly to see the new music and get copies of it to practice and be prepared to play in two weeks), so that, too, was a good thing.

I kept myself from playing for quite some time because I feared my health would not be good enough, and I knew my hands definitely weren’t good enough.  Now, though, I’m able to play . . . and even though I’m not where I want to be, I’m at least able to do something.

And something always beats nothing any day of the week.

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Note:  I’ve been leery of discussing any of my physical challenges on this blog, because for the most part, I feel they’re irrelevant to the discussion.  However, in this case, they are quite relevant, even though I wish devoutly that they weren’t.

Now, are my physical limitations about to stop me?  Absolutely not.  They haven’t for anything else — merely slowed me down a little — and they won’t here, either.  I just have to learn to work around them, that’s all.  And I will do so.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 20, 2011 at 10:15 pm