By Francesca Burke

I have always found it hard to find something I am good at. When I was little and my parents made me play soccer, I would stand on the field and wander like Ferdinand the Bull while the other kids would be running with purpose. I did not experience the same drive when it came to athletics, which was difficult because sports was what had the most value in my school life.

I started 5th grade at Kenston Intermediate School six years ago. This year would be a very important one; it was the year band was offered to students. The only instrument I had ever played was piano, and had been doing so since I was six. I enjoyed making music and wanted to continue, especially because this was one of the few musical arts options available to kids my age. Kenston offered students the choice to choose between the following four instruments: the clarinet, the flute, the trombone, and the trumpet. I had no idea which instrument to choose, so my parents showed me videos of people playing these four instruments so I could see how they sounded. I have never been good at decision-making under pressure, and at that moment I chose the clarinet. To this day I don’t know why I picked this instrument, but I wouldn’t trade that decision for the world. 

Our clarinet section probably had about thirty kids in it, the largest of all the sections in the band. When I started the clarinet it came naturally to me. I had been reading music for four years on piano, and it all seemed very basic. Once I was taught to finger a note, I could play it and didn’t need to be taught it again. Some of my proudest moments at the time were when kids were individually called to the front of the class to play a piece like“Hot Cross Buns” and I could do so without making a mistake. I truly started loving the sound of the instrument and band class became something I looked forward to every day.

After that year I left Kenston to attend Hathaway Brown School. This was a completely new environment, one of the most drastic changes being that there was a middle school orchestra instead of a band. I was so excited that I could be a part of a larger group of instrumentalists who shared a common passion, and became a clarinetist in the orchestra that year. This was truly a moment of growth for me not only because I was being challenged more but because I felt like I had found my place and the drive I had been lacking for so many years. I had been wandering trying to find a talent, and being in an orchestra finally opened my eyes to the fact that I might be good at something. I had never applied my music reading skills in an environment like an orchestra before and saw how much I could accomplish when I was challenged in this way. In sixth grade I was the only clarinet in middle school, which was nerve-wracking after being one of thirty ten year olds who played the same instrument. But at the same time, I enjoyed the independence, and felt that I was finally developing a talent that only I possessed. Being a part of that orchestra opened my eyes to the beauty of music. Even when we tuned at the beginning of class. I thought we sounded just like the Cleveland Orchestra. My proudest moment had gone from playing a basic piece for my band class to playing the bass clarinet with the Upper School Orchestra when I was in seventh grade. 

I have been in Hathaway Brown’s orchestra for five years and I love it just as much as I did then. Even though the Upper School Orchestra has about six clarinetists now, I still feel that passion and individuality every time I play. The sound of different instruments flooding your ears while you blend your part with theirs is a truly magical experience. That feeling when the entire ensemble strikes a perfect chord or tone cluster (or any dominant seventh chord, in my opinion) is a moment when the world and all its stresses fall away and the only thing that matters are the little black notes in front of you. I love it so much that I joined an out of school orchestra this year as well. Orchestras have made me realize that I have a talent for music. The fact that I listen to orchestral pieces and try to piece apart each instrument and their part makes me feel like my knowledge for music is growing because I get the opportunity to play with amazing ensembles.

Undoubtedly there are kids like me out there who aren’t good at athletics and have given up on finding something that makes them feel talented. The world has become so centered around sports that, if you don’t take a liking to them from a young age, you are deemed less important. This is especially true at any school you attend, and it is still something I am struggling with now. It is hard to recognize that finding a talent takes years of uncovering different layers of yourself. However, once you find that ability, whatever it is, it will resonate with you and create a new sense of pride and exceptionality. I recommend that any instrumentalist join an orchestra because it will give you confidence and make you a part of a community of gifted people with common interests. Once you find a safe haven, like being in the wonderful atmosphere of an orchestra, you find your talent will shine through on its own.