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This one time… at band camp

Emily Le Strange



I realise that I take up quite a lot of this column, and a lot of your reading time, raving on about the School of Music, but you have to understand that I have no life outside of it. In a few months I can actually apply to become a citizen. But today’s column is not about music school exactly, it’s more about putting right a few misconceptions about musicians in general…and the truth behind the band camp phenomenon.
First of all, some people call themselves musicians if they know three chords on the guitar. Some people call themselves musicians if they can’t play a note on any instrument, but they know lots about the subject. Some people have degrees in music, some don’t – but that doesn’t make them any less of a musician. Some people are wannabe rock stars who think ‘musician’ implies depth and talent, which they quite frankly don’t have. I also have issues with pop singers who don’t write their own songs but they still call themselves musicians because they work in the industry. I suppose technically, my having a BMus makes me a musician but I think it’s a wanky word and I think I’ll just go for ‘music student’ because at least that’s self deprecating – more my style.
Probably the best thing a musician can be is open-minded. Clearly I’ve been moving in classical circles my whole life, and although I enjoy listening to all kinds of music, I’m not so keen on producing it myself. I am not going to even try and do Gwen Stefani or Missy Elliott or Kylie Minogue – they’re out of my comfort zone. So, a couple of months ago, when the opportunity arose for me to sing with a jazz group at a Christmas gig, I was a bit anxious about it. I knew that jazz has that element of impromptu, and I found myself with no music in front of me and no idea what I was doing. The guy on double bass I established as the leader, so I asked him, “How many bars intro are you going to do?”
To which he replied nonchalantly, “I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes.”
“What key are we in?” I asked.
“I think it’s D minor,” he replied.
“You think?” I said.
“Yeah, we were tossing around the idea of A minor just a minute ago…we’ll see how it goes.”
So at this stage I had no concept of time or key, which, for those of you who aren’t musicians, are two fairly important parts of a song. I have to say though, after the first completely freaked out verse, I really started to enjoy myself. Anything goes with jazz. I’d do a verse, then the sax guy would improvise on a verse, then the double bass…there was no structure to the thing, it was all about feel. And I figured that the jazz guys, what with jazz being the sexiest music out there, got up to a lot of feeling.
Which brings me to this one time at band camp… There have been many times on band camp where I’ve wondered about the classical musician’s ‘square’ reputation. Let’s be honest, when you picture a trombone player, you don’t exactly see a Brad Pitt-like bronzed god in short shorts, do you? You should never judge a man by his instrument, because those classical musicians are dark horses.
Contrary to popular belief, band camp is not one big massive orgy with various instruments being thrust in various places, but more like a regular school camp without the curfews, the chaperones, the single sex bedrooms and stupid confidence courses where in the process of pulling your team mate over a wall you accidentally wedgie them in full view of the entire class…
The best thing about band camp is the fact that are you are hanging out with a bunch of people from all different backgrounds, with different jobs and lifestyles, but they all have one thing in common, which is the love of music. Ah, who am I kidding? The best thing about band camp is the partying! One of my fondest memories is of touring America in 2001 and going to a frat party; then there have been the spa pool parties, the costume parties, the hotel room parties, the hotel foyer parties and the hotel hallway parties. Admittedly there is some scandalous behaviour, but not any more scandalous than if it were law camp, or Science or English camp (actually I don’t think there’d be much action on English camp.)
A highlight of band camp has to be the band dinner. Usually these are held at cheap buffet places where the guys have eating contests and the girls purge in order to eat more. During the course of the evening there are ‘items’, which are invariably the rewriting of well-known songs with naughty lyrics. The one time that I had the nerve to get up and sing a filthy song (incidentally it was “just a spoon full of liquor helps the first year go down”) one of my fellow band mates had managed to smear chocolate syrup on my left breast without my noticing. The jokes about body paint still run rife. But it wasn’t me in the hotel room in LA with three half-naked Spanish guys! The things you don’t hear about classical musicians! Oh, we are dark horses indeed!
P.S. No, I have never put a flute…