Well, I'm home from tour, and my head feels a little like this:
It was a good 37-day run, from Los Angeles to Maryland. Oh yeah, and I'm pregnant. It was interesting watching my body morph over the weeks—it felt like a physical representation of our journey. Now that we're on the other side, I'll share some of my experiences.
The first week was memorable because my comrade and sectionmate, Chris, picked up a nasty, contagious bronchitis right before the band flew to L.A. He was quarantined until well enough to travel, so I played the first few gigs by myself. Some service bands (Marine Band, Navy Band), have double the personnel for each instrument, and rotate who plays concerts and goes on tour. In the Army Field Band, it's just Chris and I on euphonium and we typically play every concert together. I definitely missed my stand partner. I know this pic is focused on my awesome colleague unleashing a trumpet solo, but look how sad and lonely I look in that empty euph section!
[Photo by Ben Hilgert]
I imagine playing Eb clarinet or maybe a percussion instrument is similar to how it felt to play a series of shows by myself. It's a fun mental challenge, but it's also taxing, and you sacrifice things like divisi parts and staggered breathing. After 7.5 years of playing together, there are lots of little things Chris and I do automatically to make concerts go smoothly. So I was happy and relieved to have our team back after the first week.
One of the band's first stops of tour was San Luis Obispo, California, for the American Bandmasters Association Annual Convention. My teacher, Dr. Brian Bowman, received the Edwin Franko Goldman Memorial Citation, which recognizes "outstanding services to the band movement in America." He was also a featured soloist on the Field Band's gala concert, performing "Flower Song" from Bizet's Carmen.
Since we were down a player and Dr. B was joining us for the concert anyway, my boss suggested I ask if he'd like to sit in for the whole show. I was THRILLED when he agreed, and enjoyed one of the most fun, memorable concerts of my life. I kept thinking how surreal it was to be sitting there in uniform doing my dream job, next to the man who was such a huge part of helping me get there. He also sounded amazing (sight reading all the music), and I felt like I should have paid him for the lesson I received playing next to him in the band.
Chris is also a Dr. Bowman student, and the three of us were supposed to play Melody Shop together after his solo. We missed having Chris there, but it was still a blast to share the front of the stage with Dr. B.
The other musical highlight of this tour was soloing on nine concerts. My colleagues are amazing, and it's never lost on me how much of a privilege it is to stand in front of them and perform for enthusiastic crowds. Here's a video of our concert at Butler University in Indianapolis. While no performance was "perfect," including this one, I think I will look back on this run of solos and be proud of the work I did. Thank you to Adrian Hernandez for adapting Howard Snell's brass band version for winds!
The best part about soloing is chatting with the audience afterward. I love hearing their opinions on everything, and it turns out being pregnant and playing a low-brass instrument is quite the novelty act. Several nice ladies touched my belly (I didn't mind), and there were SO many comments along the lines of "how do you have enough air to blow that thing?" I definitely took more breaths and chose shorter phrasing than I would have while not with child. I thought the altitude for some of our Utah and Colorado shows made more of a difference than the big baby I was carrying there at the end.
[Photo by Rob McIver]
A short list of my favorite comments:
"You play really well for someone in your condition."
"I never imagined that instrument could make such a beautiful sound!"
"That is going to be one musical baby!"
"What is that thing? Is it heavy?"
"I will pray for your baby."
And the comment I got almost as much as "How do you have enough air?"...
"I have a girl euphonium player at my school, and I can't wait to tell her about you."
Or some variation of that. It happens every time I play a solo with the band. I meet students, educators, and band parents who mention how exciting it is to see a female player. So much about the music community has changed in the last 40 years. I didn't grow up in the generation that experienced overt discrimination. For the most part, I've not felt I was treated differently throughout my career. But one thing that is still very real is there just aren't as many of us women in the field. Seeing someone in a certain role has a powerful normalizing effect. I'm glad it helps young people to see female low-brass players on the front of the stage (while knocked up, even). I remember how excited I was to meet Jan Duga for the first time when I was in high school. It's fun to think I could be doing the same thing for today's young players.
[Photo by Rob McIver]
Another cool thing that happened this tour...I was able to visit some of my favorite National Parks. I found a stellar deal on a rental car, so a group of us snuck away on a day off to see Death Valley.
The same group was able to swing by Arches National Park on our way from Utah to Colorado. It made for an early morning but was SO worth it to get away for a few hours and bask in the fresh air and amazing views.
Erika and I made time to see Zion National Park, and even hiked Angel's Landing. I was a little worried about keeping up, but I took it slow, and actually felt like it was easier in some ways than when I did this trail a few years ago. Maybe the baby gave me a boost? In any case, it was a very empowering hike.
We got to a certain point, looked back, and realized how far we'd come. It's good to do that every now and then.
I think this day will always be one of my favorite tour memories. Brendan and I also decided that since our baby was getting around in the National Parks so much already, we ought to decorate his nursery with a parks theme. Now I have an excuse to buy tchotchkes in all the gift shops!
Halfway through tour, Brendan and Bo flew out and spent six days with me. It's impossible to overstate how much that helps. Even though traveling with a toddler is complicated, expensive, and a little bit crazy, our family was together—things are just better that way. We also got to spend some precious time with family in Colorado. Bo loves playing with his cousin Arwen! As we traveled on through Kansas, we found plenty of kid-friendly pit stops and adventures. Bo's favorite activity was probably the K-State Insect Zoo. He still talks about petting the tarantula and hissing cockroach.
[Photo by Rob McIver]
Saying goodbye at the end of their visit wasn't too bad because I knew we only had two weeks to go until I was home! Only two more more weeks of fast-food lunches, long bus rides, and endless suitcase re-packing. A few tour stats: I did Laundry three times, ate at Taco Bell and Cracker Barrel four times each, stayed in 27 different hotels, bought underwear twice (because I waited too long to do laundry), did three high school clinics, traveled over 4,000 miles, and played Stars and Stripes 26 times. It's an honor to do this job, and at the end of a tour I try to remember the incredible people I met and the musical moments shared with my colleagues. People come to our shows for lots of different reasons. Some are there because they love the Army or America, some because they are passionate about music, and some aren't really sure why they came, "but are sure glad we did."
[Photo by Rob McIver]
I'm glad we were able to come to these people's communities to share music and make a positive emotional connection about the military. And now, I'm so grateful to be home with my family!