I stood in the entrance of the exhibition hall and looked out at the rows of people, extending as far as the eye could see, as they tried out the latest saxophones, trumpets, and cymbals. Amid the crush of bodies and discordant sounds I said to myself: “What the hell am I doing here? This is a terrible mistake.” I had died and gone to band nerd hell.
There was no shortage of people to remind me what an honor it is to be invited to the Midwest Band Clinic, which is held each year just before Christmas in Chicago. The build-up made it clear I was headed to the Cannes Film Festival of the concert band world. Yes, concert band. A kind of music that most people leave behind when they graduate from middle school. A kind of music that I would never consider listening to for pleasure.
Yet there I was, along with 65 other members of the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, an unpaid ensemble made up largely of music educators who had shelled out money and made a tremendous sacrifice of their time to come here. By the time we were done, we had undergone a transformative experience. As our last note was still ringing in the hall, I choked back tears. What drove me and 65 other people to this moment?
The answer I can give from my personal experience is that I play in the Brooklyn Wind Symphony because it is the best way I know to lose my ego into something bigger than myself. It’s like taking all the anxieties and neuroses of life, dissolving them in a glass over water, and emptying into the ocean.
We happen to be alive at a moment when scientists are starting to tackle the same question—what compels humans to make music in the first place?—and coming up with interesting theories.