“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”
– J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Music has always been, and always will be a huge part of my life. My father is a musician, so I’ve always been surrounded by music. Like books, it’s something constant in my life. No matter how rough life gets, when I find myself in times of trouble, I know I’ll always have the words of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and J.K. Rowling to comfort me.
But, you see, the thing about music is that it doesn’t really need words to convey emotion. As a person obsessed with words and they way they work, I never really understood that. That is, until I joined band.
I started playing the trumpet in my school’s band way back in the sixth grade, and it quickly became a huge part of my life. In fact, it’s the reason I’m posting this today. We had a parent performance on Wednesday.
Anyway, band really helped me discover the magic of music without words. Our sixth grade year we mostly played short, familiar tunes that I knew the words to. (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Yankee Doodle, etc.) Those were nice and all, but in seventh grade we got to play a medley of music from the Harry Potter movies. Naturally, I was excited about it. I loved Harry Potter, so I would be happy doing anything related to it.
I remember playing the first few notes of Hedwig’s theme and realizing that there were tears streaming down my cheeks. The boys in my section teased me for crying, but I think that was the moment I realized how powerful music could be. I’d cried because just hearing those few simple notes had transported me into the magical world I loved so much. Just a few notes opened the door to an entire world.
After we played that piece I was eager to get my hands on more music like that. More music that cold make me feel something. There was no better place to start than with John Williams.
For those of you who’ve been living under a rock, John Williams is the composer behind the soundtracks to some of the greatest movies of all time. Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Harry Potter to name a few. He’s a master at taking a few simple notes and themes and turning them into something huge and epic and moving.
John Williams was a gateway into the larger world of movie scores. I found myself looking back at all of my favorite movies and listening to their scores. That’s how I discovered artists like Alan Menken, Mark Mancina, Alexandre Desplat, Murray Gold, Danny Elfman, Michael Giacchino, Thomas Newman, and Hans Zimmer.
From there I moved on to classics like Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, Moonlight Sonata and Fur Elise by Beethoven, Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky, and so much more beautiful music by artists who’ve mastered the art of moving people without using words.
By listening to them I think I’ve learned a thing or two about moving people with words.
Like almost everything in my life, it comes right back to Harry Potter.
You see, there were two trumpet solos in that medley we played back in seventh grade, and at the time I wanted to play those solos more than anything. Unfortunately, I was sitting in forth chair, and I didn’t think I’d even get a shot. My friend (he’s requested to be called Gish) was first chair, and we all thought he was going to get the solo by default. Then my band director surprised us all by holding auditions.
Since I was forth chair I was the last to go. My heart was pounding so loud that I could barely hear the three boys play the solo before me. Two of them did okay, Gish played it pretty much perfectly. I thought there was no way I could win now. My hands were shaking as I picked up my trumpet and prepared to play. The room was too quiet. The boy were staring at me. The director was staring at me. I took two deep breaths and began to play.
The solo was only a few measures long, but it felt like it went on forever. I was terrified, but I focused on the music, on how much it meant to me, and I played on.
Then, the worst thing that could possibly happen did. I messed up. I cracked a note that I’d been playing perfectly all week. I poured my soul into that audition, but it didn’t keep me from messing up. I was devastated.
Then the unthinkable happened. He gave me the solos. Both of them. Even though I’d messed up. Even though Gish had played them technically perfectly. I’d played them with heart, and thats what really matters in both music and writing.