Most Tuesday nights you can find me practicing with a group of brass and woodwinds in the First Christian Church near the Puyallup Fairgrounds. In the summer, the air gets toasty in the sanctuary filled with sounds of Sousa and other big band composers.
In fact, it was so dense with sound and heat at my last practice that I wished I had changed into shorts and a tank top even though we propped the doors open and played late into the evening after the temperature lowered.
The congregation that generously lets us practice in their church decorated the room with hanging multicolored spirals from the ceiling, so the heat blended with twisting colored paper.
I sit at the very end of the third clarinets, a place I never could have imagined after claiming the first chair through most of my school days. I feel better about this knowing the first clarinets in this band are career musicians who didn’t let their instruments gather dust for years before finding the Puyallup Community Band.
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We are a mixed group. There are no auditions, so the skill level varies. The oldest member is a saxophone player named Ozzie. He’s 95. Our youngest members go to high school and probably need to get their parents’ permission.
When our director, Rich Powers, starts us off, my chair doesn’t matter much to me and neither does my age. I come to practice because when I stare at the notes running across the sheet music, I find a focus that shuts out the rest of my life.
The stress of the intensely dedicated students I work with in my day job, the drama of the courtroom I sat in for jury duty, and even the housework that waits for me all fall away in the face of the first trumpet’s glorious melody behind me. My mind is so intent on our challenging music that I can only think about keeping up and managing the dynamics.
We work our way through the pieces of our upcoming concerts, watching Powers not nearly as often as we should. Best of all, as deep as we stare into our own stands filled with notes, we occasionally click as a musical ensemble.
That click feels a little like when I was on the swings as a kid and the girl swinging next to me lined up with my arc. A sense of flying and that it all might end at any moment lingers in the air as all 50 of us make music together in time. In the greatest of all moments, this happens in front of an audience at Meeker Mansion, the Washington State Fair or a Christmas concert.
I have read a lot about the benefits of music, and most often those writing about its virtues talk of benefits for young people.
I’d like to add one more thing to the list of gifts my parents gave me when they paid for instruments, music programs and lessons. As I get older, I fall more deeply into the music and into camaraderie with even the drummers at the far back of the room.
The practices in the toasty sanctuary make all of my middle-aged life more worthwhile. Stepping out of that church late on a Tuesday, I can again face the housework.
I wish this for every musician now fumbling her way through scales, and I hope I get the joy of finding that swinging arc of togetherness until I am at least as old as Ozzie the saxophone.
Karrie Zylstra Myton of Puyallup teaches at Bates Technical College and writes children's fiction. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.