By Yookyeong Kim, English Columnist
“How is it that music can , without words, evoke our laughter, our fears, our highest aspirations?” -- Jane Swan
“I can’t do anything!” I, a 6 year-old violinist failure-extraordinaire, wailed after cranking out an out-of-tune rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on my dreaded violin. After much amassed hatred for my instrument and my seemingly insurmountable obstacle of mastering it, I gave up, tucking my violin into the storage area to accumulate dust under a white sheet.
Hoping that my musical incapabilities only resided in the string instrument field, I put my musical faith into trying the piano. After receiving a brand new keyboard from my grandmother, I religiously smashed out incoherent melodies and basic rhythms. I thought, at that time, nothing could possibly be worse than enduring weekly visits to my teacher’s house, daily nagging from my mother to practice, frequent shedding tears onto the piano keys, daily groans when 5:00 pm piano practice time hit, and a gradual hatred for my second instrument.
Once again, it was time to move on and depart from my hatred, but I was devastated: despite my incapabilities, I still loved music. The emotions of happiness, melancholy, regret, and indescribable passion are truly feelings that I could only experience through playing and listening to music. However, coming to terms with my musical failure, I almost considered quitting music altogether despite retaining my passion for music in a tiny portion of my heart.
The will to go back to playing music caught my mind for the next half-year. Music was the one thing that kept me emotionally-grounded, and this period of deprivation took its toll: I constantly had a feeling that something was missing. In my search to compensate for this gap, I constantly visited the open rehearsals and free concerts of a nearby youth orchestra. I often sat in and busied myself with my meaningless homework assignments and lengthy essays while listening to and enjoying the ethereal blend of instrumentation. At that time, I did not pay attention to the musicians or even bothered to look up at the rehearsal stage.
It was not until a few weeks of spending time at the orchestra when I finished all my work and decided to simply sit and actually watch the rehearsal. A few musicians who arrived early were warming up and practicing on stage. At first, nothing seemed spectacular, but immediately when I saw a musician in the front row start to practice, the instrument that particularly caught my eye was the thin, sleek and silver beauty of the flute. No other instrument quite matched the graceful posture, lilt of the vibrato and variety of melodic statements and emotions of the flute.
I remember paying attention to this musician, the principal first chair flute player, for the entire rest of the rehearsal. When I had an abrupt moment of confidence fueled by curiosity, I cautiously sought him out after the end of rehearsal to find him casually strumming at a guitar while perched on a stray piano chair. That was the day I found my first friend as emotionally-invested into music as I was, and we talked for hours about music, my utter failures at my other instruments and curiosity about the flute, and his experiences with flute and guitar while learning in France.
I found out he always stays behind to practice his guitar after orchestra practice, so whether it was to talk or just to kill time, I accompanied him every week. I often complained about how many more hours I had to babysit and do math tutoring until I could afford a flute of my own while he mostly laughed in between his whispers of singing along to the strums of guitar chords.
Unfortunately, my time with the orchestra would have to end when my family got ready to move out of the neighborhood to a location 6 hours away. I was devastated: not only would I not be able to visit the orchestra anymore but I would also lose a good friend.
The day of my departure, I sat in at the orchestra one last time. He arrived early, running in with his hair a mess, two flute cases in one hand and guitar case in the other. Suddenly shoving one of the flute cases into my arms, he laughed at my surprise. “It’s the flute I used when I first started to learn,” he paused and patted me on the back, “Take good care of it for me.” He smiled, and I thought it was the most beautiful and genuine smile I’ve ever seen.
The day I received his old starter flute was the day I first fell in love, both for the elegant flute and also for the kindness and genuineness of the talented flute and guitar player. As if I were wiping unshed tears off the piano keys of my past, I had the opportunity to start fresh in my musical career, carefully cleaning and polishing my treasured hand-me-down beginner model flute.
My journey with the flute has been almost a decade and still counting. There were admittedly many struggles on the way; however, the allure of the flute always drew me back year after year. Although my steady gain of experience led me to move on from my starter flute to more professional and advanced models, I like to occasionally take out the old second-hand flute to embrace the memories it holds. I unfortunately never got to reconnect with the boy I met at the orchestra, but I will always remember and be thankful for the passion he had for music, his calming strums of the guitar, and charismatic presence when playing the flute that inspired me to follow his footsteps.
“Without music, life would be a blank to me” -- Jane Austen