Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Meaghan Stewart on Music, Life, and the Strafford Wind Symphony

If we don’t make the music, who will?”

This is something along the lines of what trombonist Leonhard Paul of Mnozil Brass talked about during a masterclass at the University of Maine just a few months ago. He got me to thinking.

A little over four years ago, something wonderful happened to me. I became a part of the Strafford Wind Symphony. The ensemble, which performs concerts in and around the seacoast New Hampshire region, is a community band that rehearses every Wednesday night in a middle school band room. The most unique aspect of this group is the variety of its members. There are musicians in the group ranging from young high school age to retired and everything else in between. While a few members are semi-professional musicians and music educators, most are involved in other careers. We are all musicians; however, we are also students, engineers, sales associates, health care professionals, teachers, parents, grandparents, accountants, restaurant owners, carpenters, veterans, and mechanics.

My former high school band director, who was also the lead conductor of the Strafford Wind Symphony at the time, was the person who first told me about the group and suggested that I join. As a 15-year old sophomore, I already knew that I wanted to become a music teacher. I knew I loved music, but I had no idea of the joy that my musical future had in store for me.

Playing in a community band was quite an adjustment from playing in my high school band. I was undoubtedly the youngest and most inexperienced member of the SWS when I started. The music was too difficult at first, and in a musical sense, I fell flat on my face…..a lot. I needed to begin taking my trombone playing and practicing more seriously but didn’t really know how to go about it. Luckily, I found myself in a supportive environment and surrounded by other musicians who wanted to see me do well. The other trombone players in the group went above, beyond, and out of their way to help me learn and grow. And as the days, weeks, and years flew by, I most certainly did grow. I found close friends who ended up being some of the best teachers I’ve ever had. I honestly don’t know how successfully I would be getting through music school today if it wasn’t for their wisdom. The best part? I still get to play with the Strafford Wind Symphony when I come home from college during the summers. While being involved in the group, I still find new chances and ways to grow. This is just one wonderful and rewarding part of being a musician.

What I think about a lot is how so many high school musicians, even those who loved music so dearly, never take their instrument out of the case or sing again after graduation day. They don’t join community groups because they either don’t know about them or they are too nervous to walk into a group of strangers and let the music flow. But then I think of the group I’m in. They’re my musical family.

The music doesn’t have to stop.

I decided to teach, perform, and share music as a career because I want to dedicate my life to keeping it alive. The music doesn’t have to end when you decide that you don’t want to be a music major—and it most certainly shouldn’t! I wish that there were more groups like the Strafford Wind Symphony in the world. What if more people could cross age gaps and career bridges to come together, make music, and become friends? I wish that these community musical groups were out in abundance and performing everywhere so that people of all ages and walks of life could see, hear, and create music together. My biggest dream is that someday, this vision will be a reality. In fact, wouldn’t it be something if everyone walking the Earth found that special thing for themselves and got together in a group to share that thing with the world?

I honestly believe that if more people created music, the world would be a better place.

Meaghan Stewart is entering her third year as a double major in music performance and education  at UMaine.

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