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Second place winner Grace Caza Schoharie Central High School

Marimba in Mind

I am standing back stage in Norwich High School after a long, cold, early morning bus ride. I have made this journey every May for as long as I can remember. It seems like I have been preparing for this day forever, and I have. This is my third and last chance to audition for the New York State School Music Association All-State Symphonic Band. Only perfect scores are accepted – no pressure. I am about to play the first movement of “Two Mexican Dances” for about the billionth time. I cradle two mallets in my left hand and slowly wrap my fingers around the two mallets resting in my right. I exhale slowly and begin to hear the opening melody in my head. My heartbeat accelerates to match the tempo and slowly my clenched fingers relax. I close my eyes for the final second before I begin. “You can do this,” I whisper to myself and am startled by the humming sound of the Marimba as my left hand begins to strike its steady rhythm.

My wrists roll back and forth, side to side, like ships tossed at sea, and my body sways as I reach from octave to octave, all four mallets in harmony. Once the journey has begun, I stop for nothing. I anticipate every sound before it is made. My hands are dancing and I feel the blisters from hours of practice start to reopen. I will not falter. My mallets drop in exhaustion and I can hardly breathe. The room is uncomfortably silent. I smile and nod at the judge and thank him for his time. As I roll the Marimba out of the audition room, I run my hand lovingly up and down its keys and carefully set one key back into its cradle. I leave the stage knowing that my performance was not perfect, but I have no regrets. Maybe I should not have tried to play the song entirely from memory and maybe I should have practiced sight reading more often. Deep within me, however, a voice dared to wonder if maybe this performance was good enough to secure a place in the NY All-State Band.

There is something calming about playing on an empty stage. The chords of music are like strings pulling apart my thoughts. I turn to music when everything else feels amiss. Learning a new piece becomes a challenge that I can throw myself into with abandonment and not feel lost. It is not that music comes naturally to me; it is quite the opposite. The dedication, practice, and imagination required to succeed in music are inspiring. I truly believe that music possesses therapeutic qualities.

Perhaps one of the best ways for me to articulate my feelings toward music would be to borrow the words of Babe Ruth, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” Now that I reflect on this statement, it appears as if this quote passed not only through my head as child, but found its way into my heart and now flows freely from my fingers into my mallets and onto my Marimba. This quote is about passion and believing in your abilities. In music, performance is a game. When I practice, I tell myself to keep going, nothing is perfect, I am afraid that I am not working hard enough; however, during a performance, my attitude changes. I have to believe in myself because I have confidence in the one thing that matters most; I love music and am thankful that it plays such an incredible role in my life. Music enables me to express myself without restraint to the cadences of my heart. Music is my game and the anticipation of performance and making mistakes is the thrill that compels me to play. The only one calling the strikes in music is the musician herself. You can choose to play, take risks, and become self-motivated, or hide behind the curtain, only dreaming about what it feels like to stand on a real stage.