I knew from the very beginning that I was going to do music at Penn. As fun as singing is for me, I didn’t think I had the chops to join one of the university’s many a capella groups. I considered joining the Penn Symphony Orchestra or Wind Ensemble to play the tuba, but I didn’t have the time or nerves to practice for the required audition. That left just one last option for me: the Penn Band.
The band’s wacky sense of humor was all over their website, and it seemed like a place where I would fit right in. During New Student Orientation week, the band was ubiquitous, playing at practically every event and sounding like they were having a blast. The members I talked to were super welcoming, and I knew I had to give it a shot.
I couldn’t make the first rehearsal, so I had to come for the second one. I stepped into the room, getting blasted with a commotion of people talking and instruments noodling. “Hi, I play tuba,” I told the adult I could find. “Great,” he said. “They’re in the back.”
Walking into the back room, there were four sousaphones (marching versions of tubas) lined up along the wall. I went to pick one up…but I couldn’t lift it! My high school used fiberglass sousaphones, but these were proper brass ones, and they were a lot heavier than what I was used to. I somehow managed to get the thing on my shoulder (ouch) and made my way to the cramped balcony where the tubas stand. There were two others, both freshmen.
Once the rehearsal started, we dove straight into the music. It was total rapid-fire: play a song, play it again, and that was it. The parts weren’t hard, per se, but we blazed through each one so quickly that it was impossible to play well. To make matters worse, my tuba’s valves were sticking, making it even harder to sight-read the music. And my shoulder! This thing was so heavy!
The band seemed to have a lot of inside jokes and routines. I wasn’t familiar with any of it. I felt confused and overwhelmed. When the rehearsal ended, everyone broke out into an obnoxiously loud song that wasn’t even announced by the conductor. I just wanted to get out of there, but everyone was standing on chairs and dancing around to this song. Once that finished, I dejectedly made my way to the back room while the percussion started pounding out an incessant rhythm.
I couldn’t let this first rehearsal deter me. I love playing music! I can’t let a bad rehearsal stop me from doing it! So I kept going back. At first, it was more of the same. The tuba was still heavy. The music was still fast and furious. The routines still made no sense.
But slowly…I started to get it. I figured out how to play the music as we kept coming back to it. I learned about the various inside jokes and protocols (like how the trumpets have the power to interrupt any song they don’t like by playing a different one). And I finally got the part for the unannounced piece at the end of every rehearsal, so I could be loud and annoying like everybody else (it’s now one of my favorites).
The Band may not be the most musically challenging activity I’ve ever done, but I do not regret for a second that I joined the group. Everyone in it is nice, energetic, and interesting, and the experiences I’ve had just during my first semester have been amazing. We’ve played for puppies, invited our parents to join us on the field for the family weekend football game, went to the Brown in the pouring rain, and so much more. I’ve made so many friends and done so much with this wonderful group of people, and I can’t wait for more.