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2022 SBO Essay Contest Winners

SBO Staff • Essay ContestJune 2022 • June 14, 2022

As I settled in to read nearly 4,000 essays, little did I know the experience I was in for. Nearly every single one spoke of the fellowship and closeness they felt in their band and orchestra rooms. Many wrote of the emotional challenges of COVID and how it still effects their lives. I read tales of individual hardships, intensely personal sagas of bullying, and stories of overcoming obstacles kids shouldn’t have to overcome. But in every case, it was a band or orchestra teacher who made them feel welcome and safe. Here, in no particular order, are our 2022 SBO Essay Contest winners.   

–Tom Palmatier, editor

I joined band because I hated school. Schoolwork was a tedious task with dark clouds of gloom and despair everywhere. I was craving for change, a light in the dark, a rope in a maze. When band enrollment flyers were distributed, I knew I had to try based on one thing I read – band members would get to miss 32 minutes of class on Tuesdays and Fridays for practice. Little did I know that the 32-minute practice sessions would introduce me to a new universe, changing my world forever. As our first practice came closer, the band director pulled us out of class to choose an instrument. I thought missing class would excite me more but I actually felt slightly anxious and eager. Why though? This emotion was new and somewhat unsettling – I rather liked it. On the morning of my first class, instead of waking up dispirited, I was ecstatic. All thoughts focused on one thing – one thing only, how amazing it would feel to play the first melodic note on my new, shiny, sleek flute. Sitting on the textured black chair and holding the rough ebony flute case in my lap, I waited for the band director – my band director, to enter and introduce me to the stunning world of music. I continue to stick with band because it has helped me to connect with the closest people in my life and shown me that I can achieve skills beyond my imagination.

Simran Rish, Age 14, Flute, Grade 8, Peter J. Palombi Middle School


There once was a young boy that went by the name of George. He was in fifth grade at the time and had just been introduced to band by his director Mrs. Thurmond. At the time, many kids signed up, and he thought about how he could spend another class with some of his friends. What he didn’t realize were the experiences he was going to have. So, he went to instrument try-out night. George tried only two instruments; trumpet and trombone. He got nervous when he tried the trumpet because all of the sounds he made reminded him of an injured duck. It was discouraging.  Days later, he had his first day of band, and you can guess how that went. Despite the doubts he had, he took his trumpet home and began to practice. He learned how to play “Ode to Joy,” and he felt like he was the best player in the world. Sadly, his close-minded self didn’t realize the road ahead. Seventh grade came, and COVID hit. It was tough to improve in band as a virtual student all year. Thankfully, it gave him more time to practice his instrument and improved greatly because of his incredible director Mr. Thurmond. The next year, he got a fantastic band director, Mr. Knapp. George improved drastically since having such a great teacher.  He learns many life lessons from a humble band class. That is why he continues to play his instrument. He hopes to shine even brighter.

George Sutherlin, Age 14, Trumpet, Grade 8, Summit Lakes Middle School


I play the clarinet in my school concert band and the Bangor Symphony Youth Orchestra.  I also play alto and tenor saxophone in jazz band, and sing in the rock band.  I joined band because I love music!  I stuck with it because I have gained more than I ever thought I would. When I was younger, I was bullied a lot.  The people around me did not accept me as I was, and didn’t include me in their group.  After joining band, I was quickly part of a group, where everyone has their own parts. When you put all of those parts together, you create beautiful music.  This has given me more confidence to be myself, and trust that I am good at what I do.  I think kids, especially in middle school, need to be a part of something bigger than themselves. In band you can form lifelong friendships, as you learn to accept differences.  If I am having a really bad day, band gives me an opportunity to focus on the good things and not the bad.  We accomplish big things by accomplishing small things first.  Band is a place where all students can come together with different levels of ability.  I can work together with people in an environment where everyone can feel important.  For example, the third clarinet part is just as important as the first clarinet part.  Band taught me responsibility, teamwork, and perseverance that I will use throughout my whole life.

Alyssa Whitten, Age 13, Clarinet, Grade 8, Nokomis Regional Middle School


I joined band because I love music! I fell in love with classical music when I was very little. My great uncle was a composer. I went to his house almost every weekend when I was around 6, 7. He always talked about Beethoven, Mozart and Bach when I was around, and he always played classical music for me. He passed away several years ago, but he left me the passion of music! I learned piano with my sister when I was five. I can feel the beauty of the music and the beautiful music calm me down. I play violin now at school with my sister. Both of us love playing violin. Music has magic power! It can heal the hurting souls in the wars. When I hear great violinist Samvel Yervinian, I can feel the pain of Armenian people. When I hear great violinist in the world Itzhak Perlman played the “Theme from Schindler’s List,” I pour tears for the Jewish people. The music is borderless, the humanity and love for life are the same in everyone’s hearts! The great musicians are not only representing their countries, cultures but also represent their religions and their histories. Great musicians make people respect their country, culture and religion! Great musicians bring peace to this world!  Although I know it’s really hard to become a great musician, but at least I stick to my violin and get closer to those great musicians! I know as long as I stick to my violin, I stick to my inner peace! I stick to bring peace to this world one day!

Albert Su: Age 11, Violin, Grade 6, Bee Cave Middle School


As they did every year, the high school band came to play for the fourth grade. The band members demonstrated each instrument and then had the fourth graders hold it. I remember the high schooler blowing air as I twiddled with the keys to create different sounds. Delighted, I decided on that instrument, the oboe. Fast forward years later, and I was convinced I chose the hardest. There’s a saying in the oboe world: You either sound like a duck or an angel. Frustrated, I felt close to quitting, but a note left to me by the senior oboist before her graduation was my source of encouragement. “The oboe section has always had a legacy of being big shoes to fill, but you’ve already exceeded all expectations in your first year.” Despite years of playing the oboe and countless hours of practice, I did not see improvement, but I failed to realize I was holding myself to an idealized expectation based on the professionals I heard playing. The note allowed me to reflect I was so focused on what I wanted to be that I did not recognize how far I had come. I proudly listen to my recordings, from the days where I could barely play and now to my state-qualifying solo and group performances. Only when I acknowledge the beginning, could I realize my progress, and only when I acknowledge where I am now, can I look to the future, and ask, “Where do I go from here?”

Annalisa Battista, Oboe, Age 18, Grade 12, Auburn Riverside High School


Band is pain. A literal, physical agony that comes with practicing each day with only minimal improvements and sore embouchure as a reward. It’s not like other classes where knowledge is the only condition. Not only are you required to learn theory and ideas. You must develop an actual talent. Cheating isn’t an option. So why? Why stick with something that takes so much effort? I am in band because no other form of learning pays off so powerfully. If I sought instant gratification, I would play some video games, or watch an action movie. If I simply enjoyed music, I could listen to high-quality, professional masterpieces. If instead I commit and I put in the hours, and I can perform a piece I can be proud of, it transcends all other forms of passion. It is equivalent to the “runner’s high””, which can only be achieved through monumental struggle, but is worth every second. What makes it ten times as profound, is that I am not alone in my struggle. The community of fellow musicians that band creates, and the Director who can sculpt our effort into art is why I haven’t given up. The final reason I stay is the music. My love for music is why I joined in the first place, and why I stay. Music doesn’t have barriers of language because it speaks to the soul. It speaks to my soul. It will speak to yours too, just listen. Do you hear it?

Isaac Salisbury, Age 17, Trumpet, Grade 11, Tahoma High School


I originally joined band out of fascination with one instrument in particular, the flute. Or as I knew it, the bansuri. I was fascinated with my culture back in India, and with that came my fascination for the bansuri. Back in fifth grade I heard a band program was starting at my school, so I seized the opportunity to finally play the instrument I’ve wanted to for so long. Though this excitement quickly morphed to confusion. This so-called “flute” Mr. Bryan handed me was metallic, machine-like. A clunky, dense tube compared to the elegant bamboo bansuri I had envisioned myself playing. But no matter; I was still determined to play the flute. And I was well rewarded for my efforts. I quickly began improving, feeling a sense of accomplishment with every song I mastered. This was no clunky metal tube, it was an intricate and graceful machine, capable of producing sound as beautiful as cherry blossoms lingering under a silver glow of the moon. But it wasn’t just my instrument I fell in love with, it was those around me too. The support I felt through toughest times, the places we traveled together, the praises I received after a successful solo, the celebrations we had after our performances, I love it all. I’ve met some of my dearest friends here, it has brought excitement and joy to a mundane life. My pursuit of band has led me to achieve a great sense of community and become who I am today.”

Jaskaran Klair, Age 16, Flute, Grade 11, Joseph A. Gregori High School


D: Dear flute, have you ever wondered why
E: Each day, each week, each month and year I stuck with you
A: A 4 years wait to say I’ve
R: Reached for the top 

F: Found you there; you amazing pal-o-mine
L: Love at first sight when you looked
U: Up at me
T: The silver gleaming in
E: Every concert fluorescent glare  

T: The beautiful noise I heard while seeing you
H: Holding you my friend for the first time
A: Any doubts left my mind
N: Nothing would stop me then nor now
K: Killing it one trill after another
S: starting anew 

T: Together for the end
O: Our friendship will not end 

Y: You helped me make it to the end
O: Over and over I was asked why
U: Until I proved you right for me 

F: Forged from a love of music
O: Over many many moons
R: Remembering all the higher elements pieces listened to 

O: Opportunities have not stopped
U: U-turn to the past
R: remembering the time before  

L: Lonely roads
O: Open times to be filled
V: Vison of the life to be
E: Every time I find the old music
L: love songs filled my brain
Y: Yellow colors of happiness found from those in band 

M: Mother saying to pick again
U: Us enjoying time together
S: Silence holding attention
I: Instruments coming to start together
C: Crescendo dying out

Aislyn Murphy, Age 13, Flute, Grade 8, Zionsville West Middle School


I joined orchestra in fifth grade, knowing nothing about music at all. I joined because some high school orchestra students visited my elementary school and played for us to show off the orchestra program. I was amazed. They all seemed like they were having so much fun, and they were so good at their instruments! I had to join. Once I was in, there was no way I would ever leave. When I started middle school and high school, orchestra was the main way I made new friends. The orchestra community at my school is so friendly that we are like one big family. We work hard together to learn our music, but we all laugh and play together too. Beware leaving any number of orchestra kids alone in a room because without a doubt, they will spontaneously burst into Dvorak’s New World Symphony or traditional Irish music. Our director is responsible for this musical haven. She dedicates so much time and effort into each member of the orchestra and into making sure we can succeed. Orchestra is such an amazing creative and social outlet, and I will miss it greatly when I graduate. I hope that college orchestra programs offer as much fulfillment as the one at my high school. The orchestra program has shaped my life and made it better, and I will always cherish the friends and memories I made in it.

Oscar Justian, Age 17, Viola, Grade 12, Mona Shores High School


I have played the viola for six years, and in that time, it has taught me a different kind of leadership. Violists fill the gaps; we play the parts that might not always sound like music, stitching pieces together through seemingly aimless notes and rests that provide the dimension needed to turn a simple series of notes into music. While the violinists perfect their melodies and the cellists prepare the harmonies, we are quietly aware of it all. We work tirelessly in the background, forging bonds between all the different parts, bringing everything that was once separate together to form a whole piece. We are like semicolons, dividing and joining in a way that periods and commas can’t. 

There is no project, no endeavor, that can be brought to life simply by completing a series of tasks that it contains. Instead, we must glue those parts together somehow or everything will fall apart. And yet, this is a task we hardly think about. To be a violist is to consider the bigger picture, to volunteer for this duty even though it is one no one may ever hear about. It is the willingness to put the needs of the group first. This is also leadership. It is the understanding that even though there is little recognition for doing these parts, someone must do them to ensure we have a complete piece. And, in the end, recognition hardly matters; ultimately, we are simply there to create something together.

Aeman Chaudhary, Age 18, Viola, Grade 12, Elkins High School


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