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What manner of thing are you? Analog or digital? Electric or acoustic? Which section? What chair?
When others judge you without knowing you, are their assumptions frequently bassless? Do you like getting into treble?
Have you ever decked your best friend in the shoulder after he wouldn't stop making viola jokes? Do you know the one about the French horn player? Remember the time the tenor sax player dumped a liter of grape soda into the sousaphone in the middle of the spring concert?

There is a unique culture present in large group music ensembles. Marching bands, orchestra, the pit musicians beneath the stage at a musical theatre performance... they all carry a commonality of purpose, an understanding of one another which requires little discussion to facilitate seamless collaboration. Each instrument comes with stereotypes about the person who plays it, and there is usually some scrap of truth to these stereotypes, because like calls to like, and when children join their school band, they most often choose an instrument which allows them to be seated near like-minded friends. Most of the time, these stereotypes are a source of collective good humour, a sense of security in one's place in the ensemble, not something which encourages insult or impairs group morale. Musicians are often competitive, but chiefly this is in the interest of self-betterment: to win a chair audition because your competitors had an equipment malfunction, or was sick the day of audition, carries no delight or honour. Camaraderie wins over competition. The music itself wins over all; it is paramount; it is what drags each musician out of bed early to practice before rehearsals.

Musicians find each other through other musicians. We find each other by word of mouth, for lessons and smaller collaborations. We recommend each other; we walk into the first night of rehearsals hoping against hope that a specific colleague or friend agreed to join the ensemble, because they are a friend... or because they are enjoyable to perform with... or because they are just that spectacularly good, and being in their company is a rare privilege. We weave in and out of each other's lives, sometimes not knowing the name of the person sharing our music stand, often never seeing them again. We practice together, our breathing in sync to the woodwinds, our bowing matched to the principal violin, our spines swaying near-invisibly to the same tune that holds us all in lockstep. We all come in here with identities, with stereotypes, with gentle prejudgments that tell us where we belong and how to belong. Somewhere along the way, identity is subsumed to Music. For a rehearsal, for a performance, for a career with a philharmonic orchestra or a small chamber group, "I" yields to the sovereign grasp of the Song. She tethers the audience to us: attention to attention, soul to soul, ears to flying fingers and buzzing reeds. She sends us home humming her echoes, bits of Pirates of Penzance or Les Miserables still flashing through our muscle memory weeks later.

Group music is not the place for ego. Yes, there are soloists. Yes, there is competition for a better chair. Yes, each section playfully thinks itself better than another section. But it is all to bind us tighter to each other, encouraging us to strive more earnestly in service to our audience and to the Music which is all but a deity, and we all but Her clergy. She requires all of us: the strings are Her spine, shining and straight and vibrating with life. The woodwinds are Her breath, Her sighs, Her laughter. The brass are Her hands reaching out into the audience and seizing them by the gut, wringing triumph and alert energy from every body in the room. The drums are Her heartbeat, Her footsteps, Her thundering moment of inertia, resisting disruption and deviation from Her grand design. It is all play, and this is our make-believe: that through music, we are more than we are.

That is, after all, the word for what we do, in creating music: we play.

reQuest 2018

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