Choosing the Oboe

Interesting times in the Bryce household last week. I found out it was time for TRC to choose what instrument he’d be playing next year in school. First, some background: in our school district, all students spend half of their third grade year learning the violin. Pretty cool. Thumbs up from me on that, even though I’ve never been much of a stringed instrument sort of a fellow. (Well, not counting guitar.) In fourth grade, they have the option of violin, viola, or cello. TRC chose to stick with violin.

He’s been practicing regularly the past year (it helps that he’s not allowed to play video games or watch TV before his music practice is done). And I think he enjoys it. But now, band was opening up. Band! He could go with saxophone, flute, clarinet, trumpet–a whole slew of instruments.

I hadn’t realized up until this point that I had always assumed he’d pick a band instrument eventually. Just like his old man. I don’t know why I assumed this, but there it was. Suddenly, it was important to me for inexplicable reasons that he ditch that violin and go with something awesome. Like the saxophone. Or the oboe. (More on that in a bit.) But when Denisa and I asked him what he wanted to do, he said he wanted to stick with violin.

Friends, what followed was a week-long musical version of Green Eggs and Ham. I own a tenor sax, a trombone, and a clarinet. I spent time with him each day introducing him to the basics of the types of instruments. He thought they were interesting, but he didn’t like brass instruments (they made his lips feel tingly), and clarinet and sax were too tricky. (Maybe tenor was too big for his hands. Sigh.) Undeterred, I found all sorts of awesome jazz songs to play for him. Songs I loved. And I talked about how you just couldn’t do that stuff on a violin.

He thought they sounded a lot like MarioKart music, which was cool and all, but not enough to sway him from his decision.

In the end, he stuck with violin. I made a last ditch effort to at least get him to go with trying out string bass, but it was all for naught.

Violin it is!

I’m at peace with the decision. It’s not like it was really that big of a deal, and violin’s a perfectly respectable instrument. But all this discussion made me think back on my own path to picking an instrument. I don’t remember what grade it was. Fourth? Third? Not sure. But I remember when the time came to choose an instrument, I looked at the offerings. Trumpets. Altos. Clarinets. (No way was I picking a flute.) Drums.

What did I do?

I picked the one no one else wanted to play. The oboe. It was different. Wildly different.

And as I’ve thought about that decision, I’ve begun to wonder if some of my long-seated assumptions about myself as a human being have been off target. (I know–who knew so much could be deduced from a decision in third or fourth grade. Hear me out.)

For quite some time, I’ve felt like who I was as a person didn’t really begin to emerge until college. High school showed some glimpses here and there, but I still considered myself in hindsight to be quiet and withdrawn. These days, I’m fairly outspoken and open about anything. Sure, I was in drama in high school, but . . . my mental picture of myself was still that of a quiet introvert.

Picking the oboe in third grade doesn’t jive with this mental picture. Picking the oboe is something the “now-me” would do. You can’t hide an oboe in an elementary school orchestra. You’re the one sounding like a duck’s being tortured throughout every piece. Any note you play is an outspoken solo. They might as well put a spotlight on you the whole time.

I remember being incredibly self-conscious of that oboe and that sound. But I also remember not wanting to change to a different instrument. My brother played sax, and I looked at that sea of saxophones and liked that fact that I was different. That was important to me, even then. And when an opportunity opened up to switch instruments, I didn’t shrink back: I doubled down. I went from the funny looking oboe that could at least be mistaken for a clarinet from the audience to what? The bassoon. It don’t get funnier looking that that, folks.

So what made me want to pick the oboe back then? Maybe it’s because the “now-me” and the “then-me” really aren’t so different after all.

Food for thought for me this week, that’s for sure.

In any case, go TRC. Yay violins! I’m just happy he likes playing music. That’s a big thing for me, even if it means we’ll have one less woodwind in my house. (Alas . . .)

How about you. Did you play an instrument in elementary school? Does your choice say anything about the sort of person you became? Do share . . .

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *