In this account, I reflect on my love of practicing the clarinet, which I did frequently between the ages of 11 and 22. I was that weird band nerd who loved practicing scales: majors and minors up to five sharps and flats, three octaves, and very, very fast. I found comfort in the repetition of the notes. And I was energized by the challenge of it: I could memorize and perform the scales quickly, but even after years of practice, just barely.
I didn’t include this account in the first edition of my transcripts because it seemed to contradict my claim to be unDisciplined. Isn’t devoting hours to practice every week for more than twelve years and being deeply involved in band, orchestra, woodwind ensembles, clarinet lessons and more, evidence that I was very disciplined?
I started playing clarinet in 5th grade. Why the clarinet? I can’t quite remember. I think it was because we already owned one, a plastic Bundy, that one of my older sisters had played for a few years in high school. Did I love it right away? I can’t remember that either. But I must have; I kept playing it all through elementary school, junior high, high school and college. I even played in a few ensembles in graduate school.
It’s hard to overstate how important the clarinet was for me. It shaped my junior high, high school and college years. Countless recitals, private lessons, band, orchestra and youth symphony rehearsals, honor band auditions, orchestra concerts and daily practices. On the first day of band rehearsal of my first year at Gustavus Adolphus College I (Sara, age 18) met my husband, Scott. He played the clarinet too and sat one chair behind me.
Why did I play the clarinet for so long? While many reasons come to mind, one that makes the most sense to me now involves my love of practice, repetition and the rituals of sitting alone in a room with a clarinet, a stand, a metronome and sheets of paper filled with notes, preferably sixteenth or thirty-second ones.
When I practiced, I focused more on technique than artistry. And that was satisfying and comforting to me. I liked practicing and memorizing Baermann scales and finger exercises from my Klosé book. Repeating difficult passages from my band music or etudes in Selected Studies over and over again until I got them right.
I always enjoyed practice more than any performance. Some players feel that the right performance can be religious. A deep and meaningful, almost transcendent, experience of connecting with the music and the audience. Not me. I always liked the private moments, when an intimate, almost sacred, connection with the notes, the music, and my instrument was created through repeated and habitual practice. Who finds transcendence through scales, played to the steady rhythm of a metronome? I did.