Playing Saxophone

If you have ever seen me in the GCPA with a huge silver suitcase on my back, then you know that I’m either going to start practicing playing saxophone, or that I just got done with it. Looking back at the past ten years, saxophone has become an important part of my life, and I can’t imagine my life without my saxophone anymore.

I started playing saxophone when I was ten. It wasn’t because I had a particular interest in playing saxophone, or that I had a saxophonist idol. I only started playing saxophone because one of my friends, who at the time was learning vocals, told me that it would be fantastic if I could learn how to play saxophone and have a duet with her. And, obviously, I said yes.

The few years that came after that were hard. I found a teacher and practiced with him once a week. He required me to practice at least one hour a day, which seems reasonable, but I refused to do so and only practiced about two or three hours a week. And, every week I went to practice with him, he would find that I didn’t practice as much as he wanted, and sometimes he wasn’t so happy about that. I wasn’t happy with myself either, because what I played just sounded horrible.

The year I started playing saxophone was also the year that I graduated primary school and moved into middle school. At that time in China, there was a policy for art and athlete students that can raise their test scores and therefore gives them more opportunities and choices of which school they want to go to. The policy, however, had the requirement of “level 5” for instruments or vocals, and one had to audit for his or her level. My parents saw my ability to play saxophone as an opportunity and pushed me to get my “level 5” degree. It was very hard to get to level 5 in your first year.

That year was incredibly hard for me as an elementary student, partially because I didn’t have much passion for saxophone, and also because I simply wasn’t mature enough to understand how much a good school meant to a Chinese student, in an environment where millions of peers are actively, and very aggressively, competing with you; if you don’t keep pushing yourself to your limit, you are much less likely to succeed.

I struggled. I practiced every day, and every day when I finished practicing I put down my saxophone, sometimes in tears, and swore that I didn’t want to play again. However, the next day, I would always pick up my saxophone and start practicing again. I was getting better, much better, at playing saxophone, and I started liking it; but at the same time, I hated it because I felt I was forced to learn, to practice, somehow not for me but for someone else.

I can still vividly remember the day I fought with my parents and yelled at them.

“This is not what I want! I don’t want to play saxophone!” I yelled.

My father yelled when I turned my back to my saxophone and started to walk away. “If you quit playing now, you are never allowed to play it again!”

I cried. I thought, I love playing saxophone! Just not like this! Then I walked back, picked up my saxophone, and resumed practicing, still in tears.

Looking back now, I realize that was the time I really decided that I love playing saxophone, and that I want to play it for as long as I can. If such arguing didn’t happen on that day, I don’t know if I would still have my saxophone today, or if I would have thrown it into the dumpster.

Eventually, I got my “level 5” degree and started liking saxophone and went to a good middle school, even though it had nothing to do with my skill in playing saxophone. I got into my high school jazz band and became a soloist in my senior year. I have also joined the Symphonic Band here at DePauw, and my skill is improving still. I love playing my saxophone, and it gives me joy and brings me back together during rough times. Something funny was that just around the time I got my “level 5” degree, my friend stopped singing. There was never a duet.

I learned from this experience that it’s hard to decide whether you love something or not until you face a situation where you may have to give it up forever. I also learned that once you realize that you love something, never let go of it, because it has become a part of your life and will give you joy even on your worst days.