Not "Making It" Since 1999

When Making Music Was Fun: A Lesson From an Old Guy With a Tuba

There they were, all lined up on the curb outside the historical Sons of Hermann Hall looking ragged and weathered. About 20 in total, the ragtag group of oldtimers – probably just a few years younger than the building itself – sat outside the door in the June afternoon heat. They looked miserable. Each one balanced what looked like a heavy, unsheathed brass instrument in their laps as they waited. The worn black instrument cases sat next to them on the curb. No one was speaking to anyone else.

What where they waiting for? Were they waiting on a conductor’s cue to embark on the most ramshackle parade in history? Where they being punished for a terrible rehearsal? Was the person with the key a no-show?

I couldn’t tell. I went by on my moped slow enough only to notice that they were there.

I caught myself grimacing as I thought that those people waiting over there cared enough about making music and all that goes with it – community, nostalgia, fun(!) – to sweat it out on the curb. The guy with the tuba had it the worst. Sweat glistened over the spots on his forehead and fell on his light blue guayabera shirt as he worked to hold his instrument up. Why would he put himself through that?

It isn’t worth it, I thought.

Then some distant, long forgotten memory appeared in my mind. There was a time when I would’ve done anything just to play music. When I was a teenager, I carted my drumset around town, meeting up with friends who had guitars. We would spend hours playing incomplete Oasis, Hum and Smashing Pumpkins songs, just for the fun of it. Just for the fun of it! Now, nothing about that sounds fun. Not a thing.

When did making music lose its fun? Is this what The Who were talking about when they said, “I hope I die before I get old”? The song inadvertently made them millions. Me? I never even made thousands, but the sheen wore off quickly when, in my mid 20s, making music became a means to making some cash. Truth is, making music should only be a means to its own end, which is why I am jealous of that old tuba guy.

Sitting there on that curb, he had something that I lost a long time ago. It was a youthful spark that convinces its owner that playing music is fun. How does one get it back? Can you even get it back once you lose it?

I never thought I’d be inspired by an elderly brass band sitting in front of Sons of Hermann Hall. But seeing them suffer a little for the enjoyment of making some music gave me a glimmer of hope. Though he sat there silently, when the guy with the tuba looked me in the eye for a split second, he reminded me of something I’d forgotten: making music is, in fact, awesome.

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