Friday, April 20, 2012

Psychoanalysis through band instruments

We play musical instruments in our house. All of us (well, except Jack, but give him a few years). It's what we do.

It started 30-plus years ago when Terry and I began playing the flute and saxophone, respectively. In fact, it was in the high school band room during second-period study hall my sophomore year that we met. Music has been a big thing for us since the start of our relationship.

Then along came the kids and, one by one, they've been picking up instruments. Even little Jack can bang out some tunes on the piano, and he plays a mean game of Wii Music.

I've always thought that a person's choice of instrument says something about them. Like flutists tend to be quiet and shy, while tubists are loud and brash. I've seen too many exceptions to that rule over the years to put a lot of stock in it, but I choose to continue believing it for two reasons:

(1) It's much easier to believe stuff you want to believe, rather than paying attention to facts.
(2) On a related note, it's much easier to blog about stuff you want to believe than the stuff you have observed to be true.

In that vein, let me offer you this little psychological profile of the people in my family based solely upon the instruments they play:


Instrument: Flute

What It Says About Her: Flutists (we would also have accepted "flautists") want to play music but don't want to draw too much attention to themselves. This is Terry. She is certainly no spotlight-seeker, but she does enjoy the opportunity to play her flute when it presents herself. She is, to me, the quintessential flute player.

What Instrument She Should Have Played: Actually, the flute fits her to a tee. But if I had to pick another instrument for Terry, it would be the clarinet. Clarinetists are a lot like flute players.


Instrument: Saxophone

What It Says About Me: Sax players all secretly want to be guitar players or rock drummers. When faced with the choice of picking a band instrument, if they can't bring themselves to play the drums, they go with the coolest, most rock-sounding instrument they can think of. Of course, this analysis used to hold a lot of weight back when there were actually sax solos in pop songs. There hasn't been a decent, original saxophone solo in a Top 40 song since, I would guess, 1989.

What Instrument I Should Have Played: Bassoon, apparently. One time I performed at solo and ensemble content and that's actually what the judge wrote on my evaluation sheet: "You should be playing the bassoon." I had no idea how to take this remark.


Instrument: Oboe

What It Says About Her: Few oboists actually start out as oboists. Most start on the clarinet or another instrument and somehow find their way to the oboe a few years later. Elissa is an exception. She started directly on the oboe, a notoriously difficult instrument to play, in 4th grade. This might suggest that she loves challenges and always picks the most difficult road. And that would be exactly true of Elissa if not for the fact that it's not. In her case, I think it was more her crazy dad convincing her to play an out-of-the-way instrument just so, eight years later, she could get a college scholarship. I feel bad about this in retrospect.

What Instrument She Should Have Played: The triangle. Seriously, Elissa would rock the triangle like no other, um, trianglist has in history.


Instrument: Baritone horn

What It Says About Her: When the kids first start band, they attend a Meet the Instrument Night where they can explore each instrument up close and personal, and even try to make a sound out of it. I accompanied Chloe to this event, where once again I pushed for a less-popular instrument with the thought of a college scholarship or at least being a section of the band unto herself. Chloe is a person unto herself. She's unique. The choice of a big, low brass instrument just confirms that.

What Instrument She Should Have Played: Trumpet. No doubt about it, there's a trumpet player inside of Chloe. I should have pushed her in that direction. The trumpet is a featured instrument that often carries the melody. Chloe would have loved that. And she CAN actually play her sister's trumpet, not surprisingly. She also plays piano, harmonica, and probably the lute, for all I know.


Instrument: Saxophone

What It Says About Him: See the analysis of Jared's father above.

What Instrument He Should Have Played: Something for tall people. The kid is 6 feet tall in seventh grade. String bass, maybe?


Instrument: Trumpet

What It Says About Her: See, this is where the theory really breaks down. I tend to think of trumpet players as loud, flashy people. That's not Melanie. She's a relatively quiet, beautiful person (not that trumpet players aren't beautiful, mind you). But maybe she uses the trumpet to project or amplify her true self. As I've said before, being the fourth of five kids ain't an easy job, folks. The fact that Mel does so well in life is darn impressive to me. And the fact that she took up the trumpet and can actually play the thing is even more remarkable. I can't get a sound out of it.

What She Should Have Played: I would have bet large amounts of cash that Melanie would play the flute like her mother. But short of that, I can see her as a violinist, you know? Quiet, gorgeous and necessary.


What He Says He Wants to Play When He Gets Older: Drums

My Reaction to That: Oh, good Lord, no...


  1. Hey, my youngest got a great scholorship offer playing the euphonium (baritone) and as far as being BRASH, I played the Tuba and we're not known as TUBIST, we're the HEARTBEAT OF THE BAND... Thank you very much...

  2. And now their middle school band director. Elissa: perfect on oboe. Chloe: perfect on baritone/oboe. One of the reasons we got our first "1" at contest. Advanced understanding of musicianship, phrasing, dynamics. Jared: Perfect on tenor sax. Good sound. Learn the blues scales. We will definitely challenge his improvisation skills next year. Jack: Can't wait. This von Trap/Tennant recreation gives a middle school director great joy.

  3. LOL! Thanks, Jim. I'm sure you're right. But it's fun thinking about alternative instruments for them. In the end, I think they all chose perfectly.

  4. But you forgot Melanie, Jim!