Playing Second Fiddle

12 December 2018

I fiddle in the bathroom. I started this arguably unique behavior some time ago so I could watch my bowing in the mirror. Now I play there because the bathroom is at the far end of the house. That way, there are two closed doors and one complete room between me and the rest of civilization. To my parents’ credit, they have, over the years, paid for and taken me to countless lessons and other musical events. But sometimes they get a little tired of hearing me practice the same tune three dozen times in half an hour. Even so, I am sure fiddle tunes are easier on the ear than snare drum etudes, sounds that were common in our house not too long ago.

At my high school, marching band is king. I started playing percussion as a sixth grader. Early in my freshman year of high school, I was ‘band member of the week’ and became the first-chair percussionist in the top band. My teachers were telling me I really had a future as a percussionist. I participated in numerous honor bands and clinics, where I was always the only girl in my section. At school, I was good friends with the boys – and the couple of girls ‘ in percussion, but at these bands, everything was different. It was obvious to me that people at first wondered what I was doing there. These drummers were hard-core: the ones who tapped constantly and had contests to see who could play the fastest buzz-roll. I was told more than once – by both them and by visiting directors – that I should let the boys play the most important parts because I looked too small and timid. I always had to prove that I could hold my own. Because I was different, I learned to stand up for myself, and to play what I wanted to play.
But being in a successful, very competitive band came at a price, especially for drummers during marching season. I had rehearsals or performances five days a week, several hours each day. I was happy, but other types of music were pulling me away. I had been playing violin and fiddle for a while, but I realized I really wanted to play in an orchestra and be more involved in bluegrass music. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do these things and still play in the band at school. Could I give up something I was quite good at to literally play second fiddle? After much anguished contemplation, I finally decided to quit band.
Two years later, I am playing in my city’s youth orchestra and taking fiddle lessons from an accomplished bluegrass musician. With her help, I am also learning to play the banjo and guitar, and have even been writing my own songs. Although I can’t say I don’t miss percussion, I think I have found my niche in the musical world.
Oscar Wilde was very wise in saying that he regretted losing his individuality. This is especially commendable considering he lived during a time when being different was somewhat looked down upon. All Englishmen were supposed to look and act a certain way, and Wilde wanted to be an Englishman while still being himself. In twenty-first century America, being an individual can still be hard.
Being true to myself came at a cost because I couldn’t find ‘ within the rules of my school marching band ‘ a way to ‘do it all.’ In my life after high school, I am hopeful I will find the encouragement to play any instrument. But in the meantime, I’ve learned that being true to oneself requires making choices that I am willing to make.

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