The Boy is in the band. I knew that. Three days ago he informed me he was also in “Honor Band,” and would be playing in the Oregon Music Educators Association District VI Honor Choir/Honor Band Festival Concert. I signed the permission form, coughed up money, and then for two days got up at obscenely early hours to get him down to the school to catch the bus for an hour and a half ride over to the heart of Cow Country, which is where the Festival was being held this year.
Last night as the sun was setting over the harvested wheat fields I made the drive over to the heart of Cow Country myself, to hear the best high school musicians in our part of the state play and sing. It was amazing. I don’t have a DVD yet, and wouldn’t know how to share it if I did, but I’ve got YouTube and found my favorite pieces to share with you. I even tried to match sound and tempo, as much as possible.
So imagine that you live in Cow Country or thereabouts, and that I’ve pulled up in front of your house and honked the horn. You’ve grabbed your jacket (nights are cold here) and your purse (if you’re female), locked your door, and hurried down your front walk to the street. My mom’s already riding shotgun, so you climb in the back, but first you have to push aside the blankets smart folks always carry in their cars around here this time of year. You also have to push aside The Boy’s middle school football jersey and pads, which I have been meaning to take back to the school and keep forgetting. But no matter, you’re in, and the door has closed. All is well. We go through the Umatilla India Reservation and pass the casino, then get onto the freeway. This is what we have to do in order to get to the concert–up here many roads snake through the back country, but they are field roads, and sometimes end without warning. Also they are not paved. To get from our part of Cow Country to the part of Cow Country where the festival is being held the freeway is necessary; it’s the only paved road for miles.
There’s a funny squeak under my hood and I worry that the belt tightener I had replaced a few weeks ago is perhaps not all it might be. It came from a junk yard, after all–who knows what it’s been through? I give thanks privately that my mother is along, because I forgot to charge up my cell phone before I left home. If the belt tightener gives up the ghost I’ll borrow Mom’s cell phone and call Triple A. All is well.
We find the school (the nice thing about small towns is that it’s pretty easy to find just about anything), identify the door we will enter, park, go inside, and pay the $2 the man at the door is asking for. And here we sit, in the auditorium in the middle of Cow Country, my mom (who I have picked up in another corner of Cow Country and brought with me), you, my best pal Jeanne, who I have known since I was five years old, and me. Turns out her sister’s girl is also in the concert, which is a nice surprise to all of us, since her sister has neglected to mention anything about it. While we wait for the music to start we catch up–Jeanne shows us her wallet pictures of her grandchildren, her son in the Navy (or something with a sailor hat, anyhow) and then the band files in to sit on the other side of the auditorium while the choir performs. Jeanne hurries over to track down her flautist niece, and learn if her sister plans to come to the concert. I read my program, which lists the names and schools of all of the participating musicians and band directors, and discover that one of The Boy’s fellow tubists comes from the tiny town in an incredibly remote corner of Cow Country where I was born, where I spent my summers working on the ranch where my dad was foreman. The youngest son of my dad’s ex-boss is now the band teacher in that tiny town. I look around and try to spot him. I can’t, but this is hardly surprising. After all, I last saw him when he was about three.
A gray-haired man stops by my seat, leans down, and informs me that back in the days when I was too young to drive on the highways he used to work harvest at the ranch. I remember him well–he was my first crush. I am very glad I’ve covered all the gray in my own hair. I’m still a stout middle-aged lady, but at least my hair looks nice. He tells me he has a print brokering business and a daughter performing in the choir, then leaves to find his seat. Jeanne comes back. She has found her niece. Her sister may or may not show. The lights go down, the choir files in, and magic begins.
This first number is “Requiem,” was composed by Eliza Gilkyson. It was written for the tsunami victims a few years ago. Here’s a choir singing it (not our kids, obviously, but you get the idea.) The words are incredibly complex, and combined with the music incredibly touching (for me, at least)
Here’s a spiritual, “Wade in de Water.” This was The Boy’s favorite.
We talk amongst ourselves while band directors and men they have dragooned into helping tear apart the choir risers and haul them off the stage, then set up a hundred chairs and music stands. And then the band shuffles in, carrying their instruments. The percussion and brass sections go in first, and there is The Boy, tallest kid on the stage, all in black except for a white shirt that he’s wearing under a black sweater, hair freshly cut. I look at him and think how beautiful he is, but of course I don’t say that–there are limits to how much a mother should brag on a given night, and I’ve already passed mine. I look at the other tuba players and wonder which one comes from the town where I was born.
“I can’t see my niece,” Jeanne says. “I think she’s behind that girl in the front row.” We spend the rest of the concert trying to find her niece’s face. And then the music starts, and we quiet down enough to be annoyed by the woman in the row behind us, who is either crushing croutons or eating Chex Party Mix out of a crackly bag. I’m sure it annoys you, too, but never mind. Ignore her. We are. All is well. The band director steps up onto his little box, and here we go. Here’s the “Jackson Lake Overture.”
… and here’s “Polly Oliver,” an English folksong. There’s a little added drama here when somebody in the percussion section kicks the bass drum over into the boy playing the sousaphone. But never mind. We wait while they roll the drum back to their section and wrestle it back onto its stand and the sousaphone boy rights himself and checks his instrument for new dents. All is well. The conductor lifts his arms, and …
…and “Prairie Dances”…
… and finally, the number The Boy and I agreed was probably the best, “Fairest of the Fair,” a John Phillip Sousa march I’d never heard, composed in honor of a beautiful woman manning a booth at a fair where Sousa was playing. He composed a song for her. The year was 1908, the same year my Grandpa was born.
And it is over. Jeanne leaves us in the parking lot. We get on the freeway again and follow trucker tail lights through the dark, empty fields to Mom’s house, and then it’s just the two of us. You fight free of the football pads and climb into the front seat and we start the last leg of the journey. I speed a bit, because the bus is due back at the school in half an hour, and we have about 40 minutes of driving to do. I drop you off, and make the last of the trip in the quiet car, listening to the funny noise under my hood. I breathe a sigh of relief when pull into the school parking lot and the bus is not there. I have made it in time…unless they’ve already been and gone? I worry. But then I realize that, because I broke the law, I arrived well before the bus was scheduled to arrive. All is well. If the part under the hood gives way we can get a ride home with somebody. We are among friends.
And there’s the bus.