My whole life cannot be explained without music. When I look back on the past, I have always enjoyed playing the clarinet with people who love music (just) like me. During my study abroad experience, I learned that music allows people to have good relationships with new people.
On the first day of school in Oshkosh West high school in Wisconsin, I could not talk because I was so nervous. My high school was the biggest in the city so there were many students. When the bell announced that class was over, I saw every student rushing home and felt as though no one saw me. I was overwhelmed by the new environment.
One day I plodded wearily home. My host mom, Linda told me that she wanted me to meet someone who could help me. When I opened the door, I found an old man sitting on a chair. At the moment, she introduced him to me and said, “Mai, this is Father Joe, and he is going to be your private clarinet teacher” I was surprised. I did not think I could talk to him because of my poor speaking ability. However, he did not care about my English, but cared only about my clarinet skill. From that day, he came to my house every Wednesday to teach me how to play the clarinet solo for my first solo ensemble competition in March. I did not expect to join the solo and ensemble contest because I did not have experience playing a solo. When I belonged to a school band in Japan, I had many experiences to play the clarinet with other clarinet members. I learned how to match the sounds with others and how to be on pitch. However, I did not know how to play by myself. There were so many things which were different from playing with band members when I played solo. At that time, I lacked confidence to do anything by myself. However, through taking Father Joe’s lessons, I learned that it is important to enjoy what I wanted to do even though I wasn’t confident. Playing the clarinet became one of my appealing features when I met new people. One day he came as usual and we had a lesson for about two hours. When the lesson was almost over, he said impressive words to me which I still clearly remember.
“Mai, I just wanted to tell you this. Music opens the door for everyone,” he said. “You know, I am a member of some Jazz bands in Wisconsin. I have met many people because I am in many concerts” he continued. “Among those people, there was a 17-year-old Mexican boy who moved to this country as an immigrant from Mexico. From the first time I met him, he was shy like you. He did not know any English and struggled with his new environment. However, he loved playing the clarinet, so we enjoyed spending time together. Music helped us to share a sweet time and now I have you here. I met you, a person from Japan here in this small city. Music brought you here to meet me. This is wonderful! I was happy to have you here.”
He said that he has met lots of lovely people in his life who he connected with through music. He also said we could communicate with people who have a different background or language from ours. Those words made me realize that I could communicate with others by playing the clarinet. Since the day I learned those words from Father Joe, I became a bit more active to participate in school activities, such as the marching band, school concerts and musical pit which I enjoyed the most. By participating in those activities, even though I did not speak perfect English I could spend a rich time with other band members.
There was a three-day event at my school called 8th graders band day. 8th graders in music bands came to my school to interact with high school students. I was a bit nervous because it seemed hard to teach them how to play the clarinet. During the event, my clarinet friend, Julia was my buddy when we taught 8th grade students. I was supposed to teach them by myself, but I was worried about it, so I asked my teachers if I could have a buddy for a help. When I look back this event, I realize that this decision actually turned out to be a great opportunity to interact with my friend and the 8th graders. I tried to do the best to teach how to play the clarinet but sometimes my English was not understood by the students. Every time I struggled with English, Julia helped me to explain things. Sometimes I just played it like a model for students and Julia explained how to do it. Through teaching them with her, I learned some music words which I then used. The most important things which I learned was that it is okay to ask for help. Before I met Father Joe, I was afraid to ask for help because I thought I should be able to do whatever I can do in Japan. However, I realized asking for a help creates conversation between people and those conversations led to better relationships. After the event, I actually became close to Julia. Making friends with her made it easier for me to be friends with other clarinet members.
When I told Father Joe that I was doing well and enjoyed the band activities, he seemed so happy to hear that. Not only I just enjoyed playing music with my friends, my skills for clarinet became better and better while I took his lessons. I managed to get out of a bad cycle of my negative thinking that caused me not to want to participate in any music events at school. I learned how to ask for help when I needed it. I came to have confidence to be who I am when I have the clarinet in my hand.
After some months passed, Father Joe asked me to enter a solo and ensemble contest again which would take place in March. At first, I considered refusing. However, because I gained confidence through my experiences of band events, I said I would love to enter the contest. I practiced more than ever before, and Father Joe gave me lessons on how to play by myself. I wanted to try a new genre of music, so I picked a music piece which had a blues part in it. I was glad that I could learn how to play blues from a Jazz clarinet player. Father Joe taught me it was important to try to “hang behind” when I played a blues part. I had never played that way before. When I was in a Japanese band, I needed to keep the tempo of the music at all times. Thanks to my hard work, I managed to play the part. Father Joe saw my hard-work and he offered a Jazz pianist, who was his friend, to be my accompanist. I was honored to play with him because I had never had my own accompanist before.
One the day of the contest, I played the clarinet not only for the judge but also for myself, Father Joe, my accompanist, my host family, friends and band teachers who gave me great opportunities to play music. I was so nervous I thought I might pass out, but I managed to finish playing all of the notes on my score. I was satisfied with what I accomplished in the contest. People around me told me that they felt my passion toward music by listening to my clarinet. Finally, I was nominated as an outstanding player and got a soloist award in the state.
On the last day of my stay in Wisconsin, Father Joe came to my house and gave me a message; “Whatever way you go, remember to take your clarinet and music with you.” Even though I did not choose to go to a music college, I still play the clarinet in the Sophia Concert Band and I cherish the people who I met in the community.