posted 2011-04-27 12:00:50

Musing On College Summer. Hold the Clarinet.

Musing On College Summer. Hold the Clarinet.

Kimberly Milner

I used to play the clarinet in high school. Although I lacked even a modicum of musical talent (and still do — I stay away from those display keyboards at Costco for fear of embarrassing myself), I fondly remember my days in the school band when I possessed a seemingly endless supply of persistence.

At school I could often be found with my clarinet in hand, ready to assemble the collapsed pieces into an instrument and practice whenever I found an empty music room. I rehearsed insipid runs and scales at home for hours, played in weekend bands and tooted away entire summers at art institutes. When my parents had their grouching sessions, I would rehearse the more ear-straining parts in our basement. But playing the clarinet had never entered into my calculated plans for the future, and when I started college, I found it hard to explain to my mother (who had coughed up exorbitant funds for private lessons) that I was resigning my mediocre sound from stage life, for the simple reason that I’d never really liked playing music. I practiced intensively because I wanted to get better at something, I realized sourly in an art appreciation class, and I failed pretty miserably.

This conquer-self and quasi-Zen way of thinking also backfired with my AP Calculus bid (the College Board didn’t toss in extra points for the effort of convincing myself to imagine that the two lines that were ostensibly touching were, in fact, not).

Though I’ve resigned my free time in college to chewing Starbursts and playing video games, I do still experience occasional swells of irreconcilable ambition. As I peered through a friend’s physics lab manual, I was confident I could decipher the ridiculous-looking squiggles and letters if I just compelled myself to try. As an English major, I find classes extremely interesting, but not quite helpful in helping with possible career paths. I’m writing this article because with the semester’s end, I’ll have finished half of my college career, and it hit me that, sooner rather than later, I will have to face a world outside of Hunter’s sleepy lounges and a USG office stocked with free tea.

I was in slight paranoia over preparing for my future — I had to make this summer count. But that perhaps boils down to more than landing an internship or taking additional English classes. I had to learn some timeless trade, like repairing cars or cutting hair. I needed to go abroad, to see the people and buildings that National Geographic’s scenic photos convey as untouchably exotic.

But with each missed deadline those plans silently dissolved, I found myself at home parked in front of the television with a PlayStation controller and Diet Coke. I was indulging in the expensive leather recliner my mother had bought to celebrate her 50th birthday (her payoff for decades of paper pushing). And then there was a completely different vision of summer: reclined feet and temperamental dragons. Why not just spend the summer exploring the world vicariously? With the rise of virtual worlds of Farmville and the like, the myth that concrete reality triumphs virtual activities has some clear holes.

Isn’t the purpose of every novel we read, every piece of music we play to transport ourselves someplace else, to hear someone else’s story? With the rise of interactive Internet and the current boom of video games (The New York Times even has a section that reviews them), there’s room for heroics there. Sure, people today have their all-in-one gadgets, smart phones and personal GPS to keep them constantly connected in a wired world, but such access brings the knowledge that greater callous political forces have ensnared every horizon in technological grids — not that you should worry about being tapped, but good luck with that everyman’s dream of starting your own country (however, if you did invest in a copy of LittleBigPlanet for PlayStation, you would have the luxury of making and remaking your own gadget-filled universe).

My point is that perhaps searching to expand the physical boundaries of your world doesn’t necessarily require you to budge from your couch.

But then again, there’s Guitar Hero and then there’s the real deal. Though hopefully Rock Band won’t come out with a “Clarinet Hero” (if that’s even possible), I have more pride knowing that I have some exposure to the real instrument. There’s no off switch on my clarinet, and after eight years of practicing scales ad nauseam, I think I’d be able run through it any day.