You are on page 1of 8

Theresa Miorin

Professor Campbell
University Writing 1103
1 Feb 2016
One Measure at a Time
French. Spanish. Italian. Mandarin. English. These are all languages which people
have literacy in. Theyve grown up hearing it spoken in their household or have been taught it
through a language class or self-teaching. Learning a language can be difficult but one can often
find similarities between their native language and the one being learned. It just takes time and
practice. Well, there are more languages than just what is spoken. There is a language that is
known across the world. One that doesnt require much knowledge to understand. All that is
needed is hearing. Even those without it can appreciate the beauty of it. This language is music.
Now youre probably wondering how music can be a language. For starters, its not
something thats necessarily spoken unless one is singing, and when you sing its really just
elongating words and changing the pitch throughout. How can the sound coming from an
instrument actually be a language? Over the years, I have come to understand music and its
effect as a language. Its really quite simple to understand. Music is something that must be
taught, either by a teacher or by oneself, just like learning Spanish. Music is something that can
be written down using symbols that are synonymous to words written down in a book. Music is
something that people can be extremely literate in, or just know the basic concepts, just like a
language. I could go on forever about how music is language, but let me begin by telling you
how I became literate in such a beautiful and powerful way of communication.

My first introduction to music had been in fifth grade at Fairview Elementary School.
There I was sitting in the music room that was only separated from the gym by these huge sliding
dividers that would be moved when there was a play or big events like fifth grade graduation.
The room was decorated with various music posters, cut outs of instruments and music notes,
and other little trinkets that are typical of an elementary school music room. Four sets of risers
were our seats. They each had three rows, and everyone would always try to sit at the top row
just because it was fun. I always sat beside my best friend at the time. Her name was Morgan
and we always did everything together, including taking our recorder tests.
In fifth grade, it was part of the music curriculum to learn how to play the recorder so we
would have a more well-rounded education before we entered the crazy halls of middle school. I
was not all too interested. If anything, I memorized the fingering positions for the different
songs that were required for the playing tests and moved on. Playing an instrument just wasnt
something I was all too interested in. It wasnt until a man named Mr. Lukac came to visit
Fairview that this thought began to change.
Mr. Lukac was a short bald man who was the same age as my mom. He was the head
band director at Piedmont High School, and he helped teach the seventh grade band class at
Piedmont Middle School. On a spring day near the end of the school year, he visited Fairview to
introduce the fifth graders to band and how they could sign up to be a part of it in middle school
if they were interested. At first I wasnt paying much attention. Most of what he talked about
dealt with the fundamentals of music and why it is important to learn how to play an instrument.
Then the fun part came. He brought out the different instruments that would be taught-trombone,
trumpet, flute, and clarinet. They were all so shiny and pretty that I immediately began to pay

attention. The flute was the first to be played for the students. It had a gorgeous, sweet melody
that was simple and pretty to listen to. Then the trumpet was played, and as the beginning notes
of the Star Wars theme song rang across the gymnasium, most of my classmates began singing
along. I was starting to become hooked. We were all paying attention now, and as the
excitement built up, the next song heard was the Spongebob Squarepants theme song played on
the clarinet. Now, I will tell you that I was practically in love with that show. I watched it all the
time and was obsessed, so hearing the theme song basically told me that I needed to learn how to
play the clarinet for the sole purpose of saying I was just like Squidward. And that is what I did.
Flash forward about five months to the first day of middle school. Here I was, excited to
start my journy as a sixth grader, knowing that I got to play an instrument soon. As I walked into
the band room, it was like walking into a whole different world. It was much larger than the
other classrooms, with two offices at the back, and instrument room with shelves for placing
cases, and portable racks that had doors to keep other instruments that couldnt fit in the
instrument room, such as the trumpets, tubas, and baritones. Old grey carpet covered the floor,
and as you walked in there were levels to the classroom. As you kept walking there were the
percussion instruments- the xylophone, marimba, chimes, snare, bass drum, timpani, glock, and
many more- which was behind the back row of chairs. After the back row, the floor dropped
about 8 inches to the next level, and this repeated three times for a total of four levels of chairs.
At the bottom was the podium where our band director would stand and conduct. Little did I
know that I would soon be able to remember every little detail of this band room, including the
spit stains that covered the back two rows and the two posters that showed the notes on a staff on
the left wall.

I was ready to learn. I was ready to play my clarinet. I was ready to play fun pieces of
music that everyone knew. But my teacher had other ideas in mind. Her name was Ms. Short
(later she would get married and change her name to Mrs. Vitulli, but for now she was Ms. Short
to us). She was the sixth and eighth grade band teacher at Piedmont Middle School. The first
day of class we go in and seat in our seats and instead of telling us that we will be receiving our
instruments that day, were told they will arrive in two weeks after we learned the fundamentals
of music. I was infuriated. I couldnt believe that I had to wait two weeks just to get my
clarinet. I didnt see the point of learning music. What was there to learn anyways? I soon
came to realize that there actually was a lot to music, more than I would ever expect.
We were handed our band books, which contained simple lines of music that increased in
difficulty as you became more developed. Looking at the pieces I realized I had no idea what
any of those words and dots meant. Why were some circles that were filled in and others had
lines that pointed up or down? What did ff and mp mean? And what in the world were the
symbols at the beginning of the line? I had no idea that music was its own language. It was
foreign and made no sense to me whatsoever. How was I going to read and understand all these
various dots and make it sound beautiful?
I had never been faced with such a challenge before. I was going to be learning a new
language. I, a student in sixth grade, was going to have to learn the fundamentals of something I
thought would be easy. But, I liked having a challenge, so I took it. The first two weeks were
rough. Ms. Short, who had been a musician for years, was well versed in the language of music.
Half the time I never knew what she was saying. We started off with the basics, such as what as
staff was and what each note symbolized. A staff is the five line bar that the notes are placed on.

There are also different kinds of notes. There is the half note, which has a length of two beats;
whole note, which is four beats; and the quarter note, which is one beat. There is also the time
signature, which lets the musician know what beat the notes have. In a time signature, there are
two numbers, one on top of the other. The bottom number tells the length of the beat and the top
number says how many of those beats are in a measure. A measure is a segment of the music
that holds the particular number of beats instructed in the time signature, and a line of music is
read one measure at a time. We also learned of bass clef and treble clef. Most instruments play
treble clef, whereas a few, like baritone and tuba, play bass clef. Because baritone and tuba have
lower registers, or ranges in their pitches that can be played, the bass clef would be utilized
because it was made to hold the lower notes on the staff.
I was becoming overwhelmed by how much we had to know, and this was just the
beginning. I never realized that each minuscule detail meant so much in the composition of a
piece of music. Every day I was learning new vocabulary to add to the never ending list of ones
that were necessary to know in order to comprehend a sheet of music. The days continued and
new words were added. A crescendo is when the music gradually rises in volume, and a
decrescendo is when the music gradually lowers in volume. There is also what is called a
sforzondo, which is a sudden, strong emphasis on the note, sort of like an attack. I also finally
learned what ff and mp meant. These let the musician know how loud or soft to play the notes.
An f symbolized playing loud, while a p symbolized soft. If there was an m in front of the p or f,
then it was medium loud or medium soft. I was soon beginning to understand how to read music

When we began playing our instruments, most of the class time was spent on learning
how to play them properly. We had to keep our embouchures correct, and some notes we had to
pinch the corners of our mouth tighter to create a higher sound, or to make it more sharp.
Learning about flats and sharps took a whole class period the one day. These are part of the key
signature that precedes the time signature in a piece of music. The hashtag symbol represents
the sharp sign, or when a note is in a higher pitch. A flat not is represented by a symbol that
looks similar to a fancy b, and it is used for notes in a lower pitch. In a way, its if a note needs
to drop down half a pitch or climb up a pitch without going to the actual note.
All of these fundamentals to music were used in every single class. You could not
understand what Ms. Short was teaching without understanding her language as well. Pretty
soon, we could all comprehend her instructions in class. If she asked us to play the music in cut
time and to not forget the B flat and F sharp in the third measure, we knew exactly what she
meant. I could speak the language of music.
Flash forwarding seven years, we are now in my last year of high school marching band.
I had been immersed in the life of music for years and I understood it like the back of my hand.
Having two phenomenal teachers, Mr. Lukac and Mrs. Vitulli, I was able to enhance my ability
to play. Not only did I sit first chair, but I played with outstanding musicians in the Union
County Honors Band for five years. I knew everything when it came to the language of music.
And now, I was even helping teach other students to become literate.
It remember it being the first week of band camp. It was so early in the morning the sun
had just risen. There was still dew covering the grass of the practice field we used that was
between the middle and high school. I, along with the other 115 members of the marching band,

was making the trek from the band room to the field. Passing the bus lot, I began to become
excited for the new season. I was the section leader for the clarinets, meaning I was to teach
them how to march and play on the field. After our warm up of running around the field to get
our heart pumping and smiles going as my director would say, we formed block, which was the
band in a huge rectangle on the field with five people on each yard line, 4 steps apart, and with a
row in between each yard line as well. As the deafening sound of Mrs. Vitullis block echoed
through the open air, we marching in formation eight steps at a time. Toes pointed to the sky,
backs straight, chins up, arms holding our instruments at set.
It was time to break off into sectionals, and I knew this was my time to use my
knowledge and teach the rookies what to do. Set! I called out to them when they arrived to
their spots on the 40 yard line. All twelve of them quickly raised their instruments and bodies to
attention. I clapped my hands four times before yelling band horns up! to which they quickly
placed their instruments to their mouths ready to play. I knew exactly what I needed to do.
Were going to march in box 1, eight forward, eight left, eight back, and eight right, then
halt. Play your B flat scale in whole notes, then half, quarter, and ending with eighth.
I paced back and forth in front of them as I called out the instructions. Each one standing
tall with their eyes pointed towards the sky, ready to show me what they were made of.
Articulate each note; I want short, staccato notes, not legato. Play double forte. Be
loud, be proud, be heard! Dut, dut, dut, dut, dut, freeze, step!
With the sun shining down on my back in the early morning heat, I watched as my
section stepped forward at my command and began playing. They understood each word I meant
because they, too, were speakers of the language of music.

Sitting in my fifth grade music room I never would have expected to see myself years
down the road playing an instrument. Nor would I have expected to learn another language-the
language of music. I had immersed myself and have even taught others its beauties. Its a
language heard across the world, in many different ways, but when you look at the root of it all,
music is the same. A way to share emotions, thoughts, feelings, and so much more without even
words. Music is a powerful language that I have had the honor to be able to learn and love. It
can never be forgotten, and those lucky enough to be literate in it like me, create a special bond
between its notes and rhythms that will withstand the years.