When I was a senior in high school, I played the flute. Not just played. Practiced. Not just practiced. Obsessed over practicing.
There were days when I drilled myself three or more hours outside of school, plus during lunch and band. Yeah. I was that kid. And yeah, I was pretty good.
In fact, someone–my band conductor? my flute teacher?–recommended me to a local couple who was getting married. The bride wanted a flute player. I would play cheap, oh yes, absolutely! My first professional gig? You bet!
The couple hired me and I proceeded to put together a tape of all the wedding-appropriate songs I had in my repertoire. I seem to recall I bought sheet music, too. I spent hours on this project. And then I received a phone call, really close to the big day, saying the couple had made other plans–a DJ, I recall, was hired, because one family member paid for his services as a wedding gift.
I understand that scenario now, as someone who who has gotten married, but back then, I was heartbroken. Devastated! I did ask for compensation of some sort, since I had done so much work, and they sent me back a check and the tape I made them. Yes, this was the mid-90s, and we used tapes.
Fast forward to Monday afternoon, when I started going through some boxes of childhood stuff my parents brought out west. In one of my letter boxes, I found the awkwardly worded apology letter that arrived after our phone call.
“John and I want to extend our apologies for cancelling on such short notice, we hope you understand. Enclosed you will find your tape plus a check for what we feel is fair compensation and close our little business arrangement.”
I was so sad about losing my first gig to a professional! And “little business arrangement” was so condescending, I was mad, too.
My 5-year-old daughter, in uncovering this treasure from my past on Monday, proceeded to ask if we could play the tape. “Sure,” I replied.
So we put it in the tape player we keep around for moments like this. On the unlabeled tape I had saved for twenty years was a ’90s-style synthesizer playing elevator music that vaguely sounded harp-and-flute-like.
My first thought was hmm, maybe they didn’t hire a DJ, maybe they hired this synthesizer player instead. Or maybe this was the DJ. And then I flipped the tape and rewound the other side and tried again. Nope–still synthesizer.
And then I laughed. Because that music sounded so cheesy and outdated, and because my high school flute playing would have been more charming (more real, more emotional), because I had saved somebody else’s audition tape for twenty years, and because–this many years later, two decades of joys and upsets later–that discovery didn’t hurt at all.
It would have hurt a lot, back then, to think they didn’t even care enough about my project–and my earnest, wanting-to-please high-schooler heart–to return the correct tape.
Being a keeper, and saver of “treasures” like this, I wasn’t upset at the loss of my recorded performance. I already knew exactly where my copy of that tape was.
Maybe I’ll even pop it in the machine and hit play to see what I used to sound like.