Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Trumpet vs. Saxophone

In fourth grade, everyone had the opportunity to start playing a string instrument and take lessons once a week during school. A bunch of my friends picked up the violin or cello, but I held out for fifth grade when you got to try the wind instruments. My sister had played the clarinet, my brother played the trumpet, and I knew I would either play the saxophone or the French horn. I couldn't wait for the day that the instructors would come to demonstrate the instruments for the fifth graders - it was going to be great!

But then that day came, and I discovered that the instructors were experimenting with my year. Since there were multiple elementary schools in town, they only offered four instruments at each school with the assumption that then they wouldn't end up with thirty flutes and two trombones in the middle school band. At my school, you could choose either the flute, clarinet, trombone or trumpet. No saxophone, no French horn. I wasn't sure what to do. After talking to my brother, I decided to try the trumpet and borrowed his old student instrument. I liked it, I was about as decent as any fifth grader could be, and I enjoyed my lessons and band practice on Thursday afternoons.

Some time in the middle of the year, though, I freaked out. What if I was supposed to be a saxophone player? What if I never tried it, and that was the instrument I was meant to play? I have a distinct memory of curling up on my mom's lap in our kitchen (even though by this point I was definitely more than five feet tall) sobbing because I was so worried that I had made the wrong choice and would never be able to correct it. She assured me that everything was going to be okay. I should finish the year out on the trumpet, and then in the future, if I really wanted to, she said I could try the saxophone and see how I liked it.

I stuck with the trumpet and have continued playing through college. In many ways, had I switched I would not have had the same experiences and may have ended up with different groups of friends and maybe a different personality or future goals. Trumpets are in wind ensembles, jazz ensembles, and orchestras, while saxophones are only occasionally in orchestras. Through playing the trumpet, I performed in ensembles at Symphony Hall and the Monterey Jazz Festival and have met some of my best friends in bands, jazz ensembles, and orchestras. I'm happy with the choice my fifth grade self made, despite the anguish at the time.

As I face graduating from college this Saturday, though, I find myself in a similar position. I've loved earning a degree in history, but looking towards the future and job prospects, I'm nervous about the choices I make. What if I'm supposed to be in arts administration? What if I'm supposed to earn a PhD in history? What if really, all this time, I was actually destined to be Tina Fey's co-writer (and best friend)? What if I start on a career path and make the wrong choice?

I try to take a step back and put everything in perspective. I've watched my siblings and others change jobs to find what they liked best, and I know many people do switch careers entirely multiple times in life. My job right out of college is unlikely to be my lifelong career. And my mom's advice when I was eleven is still true - it's not impossible try something out to see if it fits for me.

Do you have any advice for soon-to-be graduates?


  1. That is a funny story. I have a similar one - I took orchestra in 6th grade to get out of gym class! Then I ended up sticking w/ the violin because I liked it so much :). We had the opportunity to play an instrument in 5th grade, and I signed up to play the viola, and then freaked out that whole summer because I didn't want to ... turns out in the fall they made us re-sign up all over again so I was off the hook :P.

    As far as jobs go, see what comes your way, and then make your decisions. The market in MI (and the US) is not great right now, but I think it has begun to get better this year.

  2. but who is "supposing" you to do something? you do whatever feels right, and even though sometimes it may seem a bit strange, in the end, you may just be thinking too much. Live in the now and enjoy it!