A few weeks ago Kathmandu hosted Jazzmandu (the annual Jazz festival) and I found myself attending a couple of the performances that contributed to the medley of sounds from around the city.
To my dismay not all of the music was Jazz and of the Jazz numbers, there were even less that I enjoyed. One day though, I found myself watching a handful of high school kids clad in black make their way to the stage with brass and string instruments in hand.
The students hailed from my alma mater and although I feel no strong (positive) sentiment to my school, these youngsters were able to resurface memories of my own venture into music that I had misplaced under layers of dust in my mind.
The young teacher directed the cluster of kids (who are still growing into their faces) and as I watched them coordinate their inhale with the wave of their conductor’s hand, I remembered when I, over 6 years ago, sat in that very same position waiting to burst into sound.
In high school I was no taller than I am now (a whole five feet if you must know!) but I was slimmer and therefore was a puny shell of a girl who played the alto-saxophone. After several years of producing music out of a clarinet, I decided to upgrade to an instrument that had more oomph so I moved from third row of wind instruments to the second where I proudly claimed first chair.
My ears perked during the alto solos and I felt like I had been whirled back to the band room in high school. I remember the dust stained case with rusting silver buckles that the vertically challenged me could barely manage to pull off the shelf. I remember the cheap velvet-like material that nestled my beloved sax. I remember the aged saxophone with its brown splotches in the faded brass coating and the cork that was crumbling on my keys.
I remember putting the dry reed in my mouth as I locked the neck to the curved body. I remember the weight of the metal in my small hands as I moistened the reed with my saliva. Thinking about it I can almost taste the musty spit coated reed as it softened. I remember tightening the ligature that held my reed to the mouth piece – not too tight to restrict sound, but not so loose the reed would shift (and how awful it squeaked if the reed was chipped!).
I can still hear the tiny click as I hooked the strap onto the invisible-to-the-audience loop on the back and I can feel the weight on my neck as I found a comfortable position (saxophone slung over, pressed against my right leg) while I adjusted the position of my thumb under the little tab that helped distribute the pull on my neck.
I don’t recall the first note ever sounding good, but I remember how the notes found tune and how they came with more ease as I fiddled around with the scales. I credit my lung capacity to the long notes I held, and I remember how some of my notes came out wrong thanks to the sticky of the cork due to the seasonal moisture and saliva mixture.
Even though it was so long ago, I still recall the first few months of my thumb aching from the weight and I was glad when I no longer felt the pain in my lips and the prickling in my cheeks from my mouth being unfamiliar with expending air into the mouthpiece.
I recall tapping my foot (sometimes my big toe, sometimes my heel) and from time to time (in different situations,) I’ve experienced the anticipation of waiting for the cue to my measure. I miss reading the black dots with extended arms and dots and squiggly lines. I miss knowing the meaning behind the colon and the flag and the semi-circle. I regret that the stripped sheet doesn’t speak to me anymore, and knowing only a thing or two is like remembering one line in a language I used to speak but don’t anymore.
Listening to the music flowing from the stage, a part of me wished I could find my way back into my black dress pants, white concert shirt and on the stiff wooden chair in the auditorium for a performance or in the band room for practice.
I had forgotten about the tingle on my lips after practice and how my fingers would feel more tight yet flexible. At the end, I recall being wary of the spit that glooped out when I disassembled the neck, I remember not being grossed out by wiping strings of saliva off my reed on my pants. It’s funny I’d forgotten how we would compare condensation that dripped out like filtered and refined spit out of the tipped bell-like bow.
After the high schoolers took a bow and others took the stage to bleat out a tune, I returned to the office and at the insistence of a coworker we repeated the play list on my computer. I listened and I kept time, but without the eager faces of kids with unforeseeable futures and the journey down Jazz lane, it wasn’t the same.