We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofThomas Burns

It began my freshman year of high school when I was in band. We just finished playing a musical piece and we had some extra time at the end of class. My classmates and I were talking.  An upperclassman who helped out in the freshmen band class approached me to talk about my playing. He said that I would never be good enough at playing the trumpet to play it after high school. He was someone I looked up to. He was one of the first people I had gotten to know and he introduced me to the jazz band. I was shocked and hurt. 

I grew up listening to my dad play music on the guitar and banjo and watching the joy come upon his face whenever he played. I felt the same way about music. Ever since I joined the school band in fifth grade, I loved playing the trumpet and the different melodies in a musical piece. 

But after that day, music for me wasn’t the same and I began to almost dread playing an instrument. I didn’t even like to listen to music because the musicians I was listening to were so talented and it reminded me that I would never be like them. I couldn’t believe someone made me dislike music even though I was surrounded by it my whole life. All that kept going through my head was how I wouldn’t be good enough.

At first, I let his comment stop me from practicing and improving my musical ability. But after thinking about it for a couple of weeks I pushed myself to get better because I believed I was holding the band back by giving up on playing. Starting in mid-November I started to practice in the beginning of class instead of socializing with my friends. I became very self-critical. Over Christmas break I practiced every day for six hours. I wouldn’t stop practicing technical skills such as my articulation, and instrument range so I could improve my musical ability. When I came back from Christmas break my peers and my band director were impressed by my improvement. Suddenly, my peers were complimenting me on how I sounded compared to before. My band director announced to the class how much I had improved as well.  Privately he told me, “I just wanted to let you know that I am really proud of your hard work Tom. Keep it up, you’re growing fast as a musician.” After hearing this, I was happy, but I still felt like I needed to push myself to become a better player and become comfortable with playing around upperclassmen.

As a sophomore I joined all the ensembles at our school including the show band, the marching band, and the jazz band. The ensembles exposed me to a variety of music: blues, pop, jazz, and rock. I loved learning how versatile my instrument was in these styles of music. The ensembles also introduced me to new people who were a part of the Lowell High School Band program. The ensemble that impacted me the most was the show band, which changed my outlook on myself as a musician by exposing me to people who had different mindsets about music. My new band mates viewed playing music as something that is fun and they were very relaxed when it came to mistakes. You could see this by the way they would dance on stage when they performed or by how much they were smiling when they were just practicing the pieces of music. This environment helped me build my confidence as a player and made me like music again. They drowned out my insecurities as a player and made me forget about the negative words.

The positive experiences and the friends I made have pushed me to pursue a career in music education. Something I took away was you should not let someone ruin something you enjoy and you should just do it for yourself and not for others.