Band practice

That’s me in the back at the xylophone,
mallets in hand, next to the drummer on
the set, watching the director up front with
an intensity I usually reserved to study

the boy I had a big crush on when
he boarded the bus each afternoon,
silently swooning when a swath of
chestnut hair fell across his left eye.

It’s tricky to play and read music and
watch the director up front with the baton,
and I’d leave band practice winded,
even though I wasn’t blowing into an

instrument, even though some people
thought the percussionists in the back
had it easy. You count all those measures
of rest and then come in with a two-octave

run up those wooden keys with your
tiny mallets, and see how you do,

I wanted to say—and probably did a
time or two.

To be sure, I wasn’t anything like my friend
the tiny-footed piccolo player piping out
the ear-piercing solo to “Stars and Stripes
Forever,” or the ace trumpet player

hitting the screechy high notes in jazz
band. To me, they were the superstars.
But from my place behind everyone
I had the best view of music being made,

even if we were far from accomplished,
even as many of us were still figuring out
how to read tricky syncopations and
managing difficult fingerings on instruments

we were still learning. Those were the
first-date moments, the getting-to-know-you
years, when we fell in love with music
foreign to us but considered classic

to older folks, when, if we were lucky,
we embraced our horns and grasped
our mallets with the passion of the
newly smitten, when—no matter

how many wrong notes or incorrect
entrances—we found ourselves happy
to be there, part of the band, making
music with our friends.


You can listen to Jan read this poem here.

Gaurab Thakali / The New York Times

About janishaag

Writer, writing coach, editor
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