When I was seven years old my primary school offered us the opportunity to learn a musical instrument. We were given a form listing the instruments which the school had teachers for, and had to tick three that we wanted to learn, so that the school could allocate lessons. I ticked the cornet, the clarinet and the piano, because these were the three instruments in the house.
My school decided I would learn the cornet and the keyboard. I quit keyboard lessons after the first class, due to my mortification at not knowing ‘Doe a deer’ from the sound of music to sing along with the other students while the teacher played it on the piano (we didn’t actually play anything all lesson…). I later regretted that and took up piano outside school, and wished I’d learnt earlier.
My first cornet lesson was with a group of five other people from my school year. We were shown how to make a sound on the cornet (by blowing a raspberry) and told to do it down a solitary mouthpiece which was passed along the row. I was cripplingly shy and wouldn’t even try it, but for some reason I carried on.
I struggled with the cornet. I found it frustrating and difficult and embarrassing. I hated that my parents made me practice for ten whole minutes every single day! I hated my lessons, which were embarrassing and not very encouraging at all. Playing was painful and upsetting but I refused to quit!
When I went to high school I got a new teacher. I was still painfully shy, and she made me act as much as she made me play. She made me stand as if I had the confidence and skill to play anything, and talk about emotions and feelings and arrrggghhh! Without that I never would have learnt the confidence I have now.
I joined the school windband and was eventually was asked to join the orchestra (for grade 6 and above). I started to really enjoy playing with other people. I started to want to be better, to want to practice. I even went on a weeklong summer course just to play in a windband, which I enjoyed immensely.
Just before the end of my senior six year (the last year before university in England), I took my grade 8 exam. I was devastated as I came out, thinking that I’d failed and my 10 years of practicing and working so hard were all wasted.
I actually got a distinction!
Relieved, I didn’t play the trumpet (very similar to the cornet, just my teacher preferred it, despite my protestations that it wouldn’t fit in my locker) for a month. But an invitation to do another summer school next week made me realise how much I actually missed playing, and I’ve practiced every day since and loved it.
I don’t know if I’d do it all again. Maybe I’d pick an instrument more suited to my personality. But as I progressed it became obvious to me that there was no turning back. And I’m so glad I didn’t.