Many of you know that I was a music major in college at Nebraska Wesleyan – and as part of that, I got the chance to sing and play in a whole bunch of different music ensembles, including the university symphonic band. I played flute in the band for four and a half years. Now, there were a LOT of flute players in the band. We easily outnumbered many of the other sections, especially the percussion section. And every once in a while, we would play a piece that needed a lot more percussion players than it did flute players, so our director would make some of us switch.
I was second or third chair flute for most of my time in the band, so I usually didn’t get tapped to play percussion – but one time, we played this really unusual and just bizarre-sounding kind of modern piece of music, and I got sent to the back to the percussion section. The part I was given for this piece was to bow the vibraphone. Yes. I had to bow the vibraphone – I was just as confused about it as you look now, haha. Literally, I had a bow like you would use to play a violin or a cello, and while I pedaled the vibraphone, I had to run the bow along the edge of the right keys at just the right angle and it gave off this kind of weird, spooky, resonant sound.
You probably already guessed this, but I was really, really bad at it. I could not bow the vibraphone to save my life. And adding to my trouble, I never had any idea when I was supposed to play. I’d have rests for like 50 measures and then I’d have to play like two notes on the vibraphone. I mean, I can barely count to begin with, so to keep track of where we were over 50 measures of really weird-sounding music was basically impossible. So I just kind of went rogue and played it whenever I felt like it – whenever it seemed to me like, “Oh, this part could maybe use some vibraphone.” Half the time I couldn’t even actually get a sound out of it. It was pretty terrible. After we played that piece, I asked the director, “Please don’t ever make me do that again” – and I played flute in the band for the rest of my time there!