Tuesday, February 9, 2010




: the director of a choir or orchestra

the KAPELLMEISTER and band/orchestra conductor at my junior high school was Donna Schmardel. well, the first half she was Donna Bryan, then she got married. when i do a google search for her i find that she is now teaching in the more affluent fairfield school district. good for you, donna.

donna was my band teacher. she must have been in her late twenties at the time—one of the first teachers i ever had that still carried some semblance of youth. she was tall and slim, and had long and thick dark brown hair to her waist that she wore down, usually only a few strands in the front pulled back in a modern early 1990's way. she wore gap jeans and short sweaters that revealed her midriff when she got carried away conducting, her arms and hemline rising toward the ceiling. she was like a big sister.

donna was also one of the toughest teachers i ever had, and i really wanted to impress her. school band may have been one of the first classes i ever actually cared about—partly because i was just beginning to realize that music meant something to me, and partly because of donna. she was relentless—difficult and passionate, disciplinary because she wanted us to succeed, not because she was old and jaded from years of teaching. it was the tough love i had always wanted in an authority figure, and there it was, in the form of donna.

i eventually became the first-chair clarinet. i was good. i competed for and got all of the solos, and went on to perform in the southern connecticut state regionals (this was big time for ninth graders). but when high school was in front of me, i decided to quit the band. this is how i often work. i make abrupt changes just for the sake of changing, because i think it'll be good for me. and i realized that part of the reason i loved school band so much was because of donna.

i think you're making a big mistake, candace, she said to me, when i broke the news that i wouldn't be going on to the high school wind ensemble. she wouldn't look at or speak directly to me for at least two weeks.

if i had gone on with the band, perhaps i would have become another donna schmardel. i've thought about it; i still own my clarinet, and i think about taking it out of its musty case and relearning how to play it. i did entertain a number of fantasies about playing in a big orchestra, a symphony. but band is like gymnastics—you have to keep going with it while you're young, otherwise it'll never let you back in.

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