In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida For Horn and Woodwind

I came back to life at band camp. Whoever I was before that had been ripped apart a piece at a time over a very long year. 8th grade played out the same story over and over with tiny variations, the way a theme modulates through a piece of classical music, a melody repeated in different keys. The story was losing friends, one after another; until, by the start of summer vacation, I had none. My life as it was ended with the close of junior high.

My new life started two weeks before high school. Joining high school marching band is like suddenly finding yourself in the middle of a social research experiment. Before high school, you’re rarely with people outside your own grade. Band shoves everyone together into a room, seats freshmen next to seniors, teams honors students with kids just getting by, and expects them all to get along. To be certain they bond, it drags everyone into school two weeks early and stands them under the hot, August sun and shouts that they’re coming in two beats soon and do they want to be out here all day?

Tenor Saxophone at NMAH

As a tenor saxophone player, I was found myself in the back of the formation with the other lower woodwinds: bassoonists, bass clarinetists, and the one and only baritone sax. Most were older than me. None of them knew me. None of them knew my life had fallen apart six months ago. We all had something in common. We were musicians. Bad musicians. Lazy musicians. But musicians nonetheless.

Also, we all felt like losers standing out in the sun, playing horn arrangements of 70’s rock classics.

For two weeks, I was okay. I could talk to people without searching their eyes for what they really thought about me. I had an identity. I had a me. I was part of band. I was a lower woodwind. When the first day of high school came, the people shouting, “Nipple!” in the hallway were still waiting for me. The friends who’d cut me loose – lest I drag them down into loser hell with me – still wouldn’t meet my eyes. I still had to find the lunch table full of other loner rejects so I wouldn’t have to sit alone. None of that had changed. I had. Just a little. A tiny bit. For a period a day, and every Friday night, I could play the bass line of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and be part of something that wanted me around.

If I’d had to start high school as I was, I don’t know if I’d have made it. No friends, no confidence to make friends, shame so intense that I even stopped taking the bus to and from school out of fear of facing the people who knew how to hurt me. Walking through the doors of a new school without a place that was safe might have finally been too much. I’d retreated to the edge of a cliff. Maybe I wouldn’t have had the strength not to take that last step back if things had gotten worse. I’ll never know, and I don’t really want to.

Things would fall apart again. They always do. They never fell apart as completely, though, because they were never able to strip me of myself. Not completely. Being a lower woodwind gave me somewhere to stand while I figured me out. When I left band at the start of senior year, it wasn’t because I’d been chased out, but because music had led me to something else. Something I loved even more.

I’m no longer a part of band, but band will always be a part of me. Two weeks in the sun with a tenor sax brought me back to life when I had nothing else left. I’m a writer now, not a musician, but I’ll always be a lower woodwind.

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12 Responses to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida For Horn and Woodwind

  1. Georgina Merry says:

    I love this. I’m sure there are many who identify ith this tale. Excellently written too.

  2. NYPinTA says:

    I don’t know what it is about Jr High and High School that makes kids such assholes. It’s like everyone else got this memo about what you were supposed to do or how you were supposed to be, but for some kids (me) it gets lost in the mail. I showed up in Jr High pretty much as I had been in grade school and it never occured to me I was supposed to be different. My mistake apparently! And the girls are especially manipulative. First year in Jr High one girl told everyone I was spreading rumors about another. For months she stirred up animosity between us, even though we’d never met until that year and never actually spoke to one another. Then one day, the antagonist told me the other “would have respect for me” if I walked over to her and called her a jerk. So I walked over. And told her what she said. Surprise surprise, the second girl had no idea what the antagonist was talking about. Guess because I was still a bit short and mousy I seemed like a safe target. However, most didn’t plan on my not small nor mousy older sister. But by the time I got to High School I was much taller, much blonder, leaner and quite frankly just mean. I wasn’t bothered as much then. But the fact that even teachers would write me notes on my homework that said things like, “are you mad at me?” and my Earth Science teacher told everyone I was a witch and thought I was cursing the boys in class might have helped. Kind of sucks to find out very early that a) people suck and b) generating fear is a fantastic offense. But then when you get out into the ‘real world’ you have to forget all of that. (Until you join a fandom. ;) )

  3. NYPinTA says:

    PS No chance of a YouTube video being put up shortly of some random author guy playing In A Gada Da Vida is there?

  4. Peach says:

    My heart broke at this, “and be part of something that wanted me around.”

    This piece captures so much of the awfulness of adolescence and the pain of trying to fit in…somewhere. Anywhere. You found it in the same place as I. We have much in common, my friend. Great, great work.

  5. Kathleen says:

    Sitting here in tears. This struck a major chord (no pun intended) with me, Eric. My eighth grade son, who plays alto sax, is planning to play in the marching band next year. He’s really been struggling socially, and I have been praying that band would help him find himself and make some new friends.

    I’m so happy you found your way and discovered something you love even more: writing.

    Thank you for this.

  6. Things fell apart for me in 8th grade too, although they were never fully back together until I went to college. I loved this piece so much. I am so incredibly glad for you that you found your place, and your way, through those awful, awful teenage years.

  7. samatwitch says:

    Wonderful post, Eric. I’m so glad band helped you that way. I was never in band (I play the piano), but was in choir. Grade 8 was the first year of high school for us at the time and we were the darlings of the school – the top class in Grade 8, everyone wanted to teach us. In Grade 9, with essentially the same students, substitute teachers would refuse to come in to teach us. I spent every single day of Grade 9 with a tension headache – woke up with it, went to bed with it – maybe lose it for a few hours on the weekend. By Grade 12, things had improved drastically but I went from a fairly self-confident, outgoing student through elementary school, to a very shy, reserved introvert in high school – which continued well into my 20s.

    On a side note, I had a musician friend who once played “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” on an accordian for his wife’s birthday. Sounded good, too. ;)

  8. Mere says:

    The entirety of junior high was a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on… nope. Not even on you, Sipple. When I got to high school, though, I ducked and covered into the theatre program and never left until the end of college. Finding your tribe. That’s how the best of us get through. Survival of the weirdest.

  9. Chrissy says:

    I think I’ll share this with a few students!

  10. I wasn’t in marching band because I was too busy forcing myself to be a cheerleader. My husband was a tenor sax player in MB though. And I did concert band for 4 years, even though I amazingly sucked. Band is such an odd microcosm of high school itself. You nailed it here.

  11. Saismaat says:

    Good piece. Childhood all too often sucks (I know mine did) and it is so often the result of Other People asserting themselves by pointedly rejecting others. Glad you got that those two magic weeks.

  12. Pingback: The Consequences of Not Being a Wallflower » Saalon Muyo

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