Hitting Rewind…

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 Because that music sounded so cheesy and outdated, and because my high school flute playing would have been more charming (more real, more emotional), because I had saved somebody else’s audition tape for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.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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15 Responses to Hitting Rewind…

  1. An early introduction to the life of a professional musician. 🙂

    • Yes indeed. Which might be why I dropped music in college and kept up with the writing. A different kind of rejection, of course, but at least with writing you can work and rework your pieces. Actually, that’s not so different. Musicians practice umpteen hours before they’re good enough to play for people. I suppose all this novel drafting and revising is the same kind of thing.

      • There are similarities, but I’ve always maintained that writers never experience anything quite like the feeling of performing on stage and watching a substantial part of the audience walk out (or at least back to the bar) when you’re only halfway throgh playing your set. 🙂

        • Oh that sounds awful! I’m happy to be hiding behind the page instead of wandering around on stage.

          • In fairness, there are the other nights, the nights it goes well. You’re standing on stage, drenched in sweat, ears ringing, heart pounding, the audience on its feet applauding, and you’re wondering if the club will allow an unscheduled encore. We did one gig where half the audience came up on stage while we were breaking down our equipment, impatient to tell us how much they’d enjoyed it (annoying the next band who were trying to set up their equipment).

            Writers don’t get that either. 🙂

  2. I’m sure that was very disappointing for you at the time. Do you still play… or did you totally drop it?

    • I did play freshman year in college but didn’t keep up with that level of practicing, and eventually dropped it. My music background is still important to me and I can still read music and play the flute. My fingers are sloppy though!

  3. beatbox32 says:

    Fantastic story! Play the tape! Play the tape! 🙂

    I have a tape I recorded in high school as well, filled with a bunch of little ditties I made on my old Yamaha synthesizer. I thought I was going to be this rock star songwriter… Anyway, it’s fun to listen to that stuff. Some parts, I think, “Well, this had potential.” Other parts, well, they’re just amusing.

  4. emmaburcart says:

    Wow, that was rude. I never like when anyone uses the word little. It’s almost always demeaning, unless used in a name. It would be interesting to hear how you sounded with all that perspective, though. Looking back it seems like I remember something very different than what the pictures show. But, that could just be me. 🙂

  5. jmmcdowell says:

    I played flute, although I didn’t practice to the level you did. I saved that for piano. 🙂 But I haven’t played either instrument since college. I hate to think how bad my embouchure would be today!

    And I’m sure you would have played beautifully for their wedding. Their loss!

  6. char says:

    Isn’t it funny how things that upset us so much decades ago now seem trivial and silly? I guess it shows how much we’ve grown over time. Yea! Hooray for growth. That is sad that they sent you the wrong tape back. Tell your daughter that in 2 more decades or so, you’ll practice and be ready to play for HER wedding.

  7. What a great story, Laura!

  8. annewoodman says:

    I played violin and piano. When I was a senior in high school, a local couple hired me (first chair, first violin) and my friend (second chair, first violin) to play duets at their house for a friend of theirs… we played chamber music, and the friend was so charmed that we would go to all the trouble. I think we got, like, ten dollars or something. It was funny and touching and kind of silly and weird all at the same time. We performed a lot, as an orchestra, as soloists and as chamber quartets. But I remember that performance quite well.

    I’m so sorry that the couple was so heartless. I think disappointments like that are so difficult because at that age, we have no perspective, and also because we throw ourselves into a project full-force with no reservations. I practiced for a year to try out for cheerleading (in 7th grade) and didn’t make it. Nothing else before or after hurt as bad. My whole heart had been in it. I’m glad you can look back and be proud of yourself and enjoy. ; )

  9. Pingback: It’s Release Day! (Prizes, Prizes, Prizes…) | Laura Stanfill

  10. 4amWriter says:

    That’s awful–shame on that couple for not taking you seriously, and then not bothering to make sure they got your tape back to you. I hope they remember that moment with tremendous guilt and have learned from it!

    My daughter gets to participate in band as part of the 4th grade music program in her school, and she chose to play the flute. She has a concert coming up in December. It’ll be fun to watch, but interesting to see how well kids do with only 2 1/2 months of learning under their belts. 🙂

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