I looked up at the fluorescent lights beaming down on the papers on the granite black music stand in front of me. I felt the eyes of the entire crowd staring right at me but I doubt any of them could actually see me through the rows of saxophones and trombones sitting in front of me. Not to mention I was a head shorter than all the boys in the trumpet section surrounding me.
I switched my trumpet between my hands mentally preparing myself for the performance. This wasn’t my band’s first performance this season, but it was the first festival I was taking a solo at.
Just the idea of playing a solo made my heart clench. Playing within a group was already nerve racking enough. The thought of messing up and destroying the entire chord, rhythm, or melody was difficult to bear. But playing all by myself with nothing but the accompaniment of the rhythm section was a hundred times worse.
While taking a solo, there was no doubt that you had everyone’s attention.
Judging you for the chords and patterns you had chosen to demonstrate.
Taking note of your range and criticizing your ability for not being able to play higher.
Or with better tone quality.
Or with better technique.
I told myself to calm down. I was used to playing my solo flawlessly during rehearsal, how was this any different. The music was the same. The band was the same. It was just that I had like fifty people staring at me.
The band director enthusiastically counted us off and we dove into a fast paced jazzy swing piece. We pulled off the intro to the song better than most rehearsals, but that still did not stop me from worrying about my solo.
I decided to take a solo during the final song, so I still had time to get my thoughts ready. More like I had time to stress out about my solo.
I drove my thoughts back to this song and concentrated on playing the music in front of me. I licked my lips and put the mouthpiece of the trumpet to my mouth. I articulated and slurred the notes as I had practiced in class and moved my fingers nimbly so that I would push the valves on my trumpet in sync with the rest of my section.
The solidarity I felt with the band in times like these was why I kept coming back to jazz. I got incredibly nervous when it came to playing in front of other people, but it was the feeling of being needed and being part of a group that encouraged me to come back every year.
The main melody broke off into solo sections and I watched my other band members take solos of their own. After each solo, the student was rewarded with applause from the audience. For a particularly good solo, the student would get some cheers and whoops. I’ve always wanted cheers and whoops for my solo, I hoped that tonight would be the night.
The solo section was over and the rest of the band had to start playing again. I grooved to the catchy rhythm of the song and played along when I was supposed to.
As the ending of the song approached, I gave it my all. This was a big moment for our band and it would show the judges what we were truly made of. I took a deep breath and played as loud as I could with the rest of my band. The final notes of the song proceed an incredible drum solo.
Now it was time to cool things off with a nice slow jazz ballad with an alto saxophone solo. The pianist started the song off and the alto sax player joined in creating a somber melody which I swayed along to. It must have taken that alto player guts to be able to perform in front of so many people for such a long time, and he really did deserve all the applause and cheers he got at the end of the song. Especially after his incredible cadenza.
I took a moment to remember why I was taking a solo in the first place. My parents had always complained about not being able to see me in concert band and marching band settings because the trumpets were always in the back. Although there were less people in the jazz band, it was still difficult to see me because of my vertically challenged physique. I had taken a solo to make my parents proud. I wanted them to see me and my hard work on the stage. I kept this in mind as the ballad ended.
Finally it was time for the last song: the Latin jazz piece. It was an addicting and hyped up melody that we had received amazing feedback for in past performances. The beginning was an intercite showcase of our bands technical skills. With difficult rhythm patterns, tons of notes, and a fast paced groove.
This broke off into a bass solo and it was only a few more minutes until it was time for my solo. Time felt like it was standing still. The quick-going rhythmic pops felt like slow motion and it took forever for the build up to the solo section.
Finally the time was here. After tenor and alto saxophone solos, it was my turn. I made my way to the front of the stage during the alto solo. I got ready as the end of her solo came near.
I took a deep breath and put my trumpet up to my mouth. I waited for the band director que and started playing on it. I started the solo and felt the audience waiting in anticipation for what I would play next. I hit the high notes perfectly, the trill came out very nicely, and I timed the clave rhythm exactly right.
When my solo was over I was met by applause and I could not get that smile off my face for the rest of the night. I was not at the point for whoops and cheers yet, but if I kept playing like this, I knew I would get there eventually. But for now, I was proud of what I had done.
The rest of the show went by in a blur and at the end, the band director came up to me, patted me on the shoulder, and said I did good. Turns out I had no reason to be nervous at all. All my hard work for my solo paid off in the end.
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The story flows really well; it was a very enjoyable read, May! Would you mind checking my recent story out, "Orange-Coloured Sky?" Thank you!
Very well written. Story went along as if in a musical. Flowed along.
This is very well- written. I loved the way you described the protagonist’s nervousness. Good job!
Good story. It flows very well and I think you do a good job at organizing her nervous thoughts. Keep up the good work and keep writing!!
I LOVE THIS STORY!!!!!! I play the flute in band and I'm learning the trumpet. I know exactly what this is like! Thank you so much for writing this! I play in concert band, full symphony, and marching band and I hope to be in a jazz band next year. Reading this story just made me so happy because I know how solos feel like and how happy they make me feel. Thank you for this!
Always great to meet a fellow band kid! I’m glad that you could relate with my story thanks for reading it!
Reads so well, I wish I had been there to hear your solo although I’m a sax kind of person!
Hi May, I really enjoyed reading your story! I've played the violin in school and am a member of the color guard in marching band so I could follow along with your story pretty well. You described the situation really realistically, and it made me remember my first time performing a solo as well - nerve wracking. Nice story! :)
I did marching band in high school too! Glad that you enjoyed the story, it comes from personal experience :D Stay safe and well
That's awesome! Thank you, you too :)