When I was in my first year of junior high school – some parts of the country call this middle school – I found myself registered in a basic music appreciation class. After a few days of this class I felt certain that it’s mission was to drive whatever love I had for music completely out of my system. So, when the teacher announced that students had the option of transferring out of this class and into the orchestra I signed up immediately. It was the beginning of something larger than myself.
Though by this time I had been playing guitar for about six years, I had no experience whatsoever playing any of the instruments that one would find in an orchestra. But right away I knew which one I wanted to play; the largest one available – the double bass.
All I can say is it’s a good thing we owned a station wagon. Since I didn’t know anything about the double bass my mom had to facilitate my shuttling it back and forth every day so I could practice at home. I don’t know what bothered her more, being the cartage crew for a massively over sized violin – or listening daily to the sound of a wounded cow droning endlessly from my bedroom.
Eventually though, thanks to my mom and my dad’s long-suffering support I actually became quite good at the bass. By the time I was a senior in high school I was part of an award winning high school orchestra that actually traveled out of state to perform. Five of the eight of us in the bass section went on to professional music careers. Several others in the orchestra went on to play for philharmonic orchestras in major cities, both in the US and abroad.
One of my favorite pieces was Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. It was while playing this piece in a competition that I first experienced the thrill of chills running up and down my spine while being part of something larger than myself. The piece is excruciatingly sad and beautiful at the same time. It’s a perfect example of how music can communicate emotions that are beyond words.
I’d not heard Adagio for Strings in several years until a few weeks ago when my friend Phillip Keveren conducted it at a concert with the Nexus String Ensemble in Nashville, TN. I got chills all over again, immediately transported to the age of 18, onstage with a high school orchestra in Tucson, Arizona.
Music’s power to remain with us in this way and to speak to our hearts in a language beyond words is one of the greatest good gifts we have in this life. And those who teach our young people music, setting the stage for moments like this and lifetimes of music appreciation are a treasure to be celebrated.