Trumpets, tubas, and the teenage years of Rebecca Scott, music prodigy.
The school bell rings on a grey Wednesday afternoon, a shrill pierce that marks the end of another day as teachers and students alike rise to leave the concrete monolith that calls itself St. Columba’s High. Hundreds of bodies move through the car park towards the buses, but not you – you’re en route to the highlight of the week’s social calendar. The place where anybody who is anybody knows to go. The giddy feeling of exclusivity that lies just beyond those veneered hardwood doors is mesmerising, and as you pass through the linoleum hallways towards it, a feeling of belonging washes over you. You push the doors open. You’re here.
You’re in high school band.
Since first picking up a trumpet aged 10, I’ve been a brass girl through and through, jumping around the family’s instruments until I finally found my home in the grandiose gold of the tuba in second year. There’s something about trying to navigate the delicacies and identity crises inherent within existence as a teenage girl while also blasting away on a hunk of metal that weighs more than you that really humbles someone.
Throughout my time in late primary and high school, I could almost always be found with a padded instrument case in hand, constantly clattering it against some unsuspecting first year by accident, giving them a mouthpiece-shaped bruise to reckon with. As a shy teenager who desperately wanted to fly under the radar and fit in with her peers, lugging what was essentially a body bag around the school’s hallways was, in hindsight, perhaps not my best life decision.
But despite the apparent social suicide that stemmed from playing what must be the most violently uncool instrument in all of the band room (why couldn’t I have just picked up a sax instead?), there was a sense of camaraderie that blossomed within the school music community. It didn’t matter that you didn’t have anyone to sit next to on the school bus – no, as soon as you stepped foot in the music department, you were surrounded by the most chill group of folk who were just as passionate about music as you. The social hierarchy which shapes almost every aspect of high school life evaporated as you passed through those doors; sure, the sixth years tended to keep to themselves, but there were no aggressive exclusionist tendencies. We were in high school band for crying out loud – we couldn’t afford the infighting.
There were so many memories formed in the cramped mezzanine of that room which opened its doors to us every Wednesday afternoon: time trials of who could assemble the rickety metal music stands the fastest, trading mouthpieces and seeing how long it would take our conductor to notice why the trombone was sounding even more horrendous than normal (a venture which would certainly not fly during these present unprecedented times of ours), and the feeling of genuine euphoria when you finally aced the semi-quavers which had been giving you so much grief that month. They always say extracurriculars are important, but the amount of purpose and friendship I derived from playing in band is something I’m only able to really appreciate now that I’m older.
Another wonderful aspect of being involved in this music community was that of the national competitions we’d be entered into. Coach journeys across the central belt to perform in Edinburgh and Perth were filled with rap battles to Macklemore songs (oh, to live in 2016 again) and many, many hours of somehow playing Scabby Queen across the back row of the bus. Of those excursions, it’s not the performances that I remember – every terrible rendition of the Chicago score on some sweltering stage in Fife has thankfully been repressed by my teenaged brain – but the people. That sense of belonging and genuine friendship with my fellow brass players is something I’ve yet to come across again; after all, you might join band to get involved in the school’s music scene, but that’s not why you stay.
It’s been a long time since I played my last note on the tuba; I retired the instrument the instant that sixth year ended. Yet, I think the character development I went through in those four walls of the band room had far more of an impact on who I am today than I might’ve realised at the time. I think, more than anything, the experience of those eight years playing in band were more about the community than the music. High school is hard – I’m sure anyone can attest to that – but finding a home in playing the god damn Jurassic Park Theme with my friends has added a fond golden tinge to those years.