Notes From An Accidental Band Geek

Table of Contents
A division of Penguin Young Readers Group
Published by The Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) • Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa • Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Copyright © 2011 by Erin Dionne
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Dionne, Erin, date.
Notes from an accidental band geek / by Erin Dionne.
p. cm.
Summary: French horn virtuoso Elsie Wyatt resents having to join her high school’s marching band playing a mellophone, but finally finds a sense of belonging that transcends the pressure she has always felt to be as good as her father, principal French horn player in the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
ISBN : 978-1-101-52940-9
[1. Musicians—Fiction. 2. Marching bands—Fiction. 3. Interpersonal relations—Fiction.
4. High schools—Fiction. 5. Schools—Fiction. 6. Fathers and daughters—Fiction.
7. Family life—Massachusetts—Fiction. 8. Massachusetts—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.D6216 No 2011 [Fic]—dc22 2011001166

For Shelagh,
for giving so much to Elsie,
but even more to me.
And for Alisha,
who asked for a marching band book.
“Dad, seriously. I can go by myself. I’m not a baby.” I grasped the door handle, ready to step out of the car. Dad placed a hand on my other arm, probably trying to slow me down.
“Honey, I know you’re not a baby. I just thought you could use some help finding the band room.” He sighed. I pushed my head against the headrest and fiddled with the treble clef charm on my necklace.
“I wouldn’t have to
the band room if I made it to Boston Youth Orchestra auditions last spring,” I pointed out. I picked at the button to release the automatic lock. “I know
where they rehearse.”
He steepled his hands on top of the steering wheel and regarded me over his glasses, eyes hard. “Elsie, don’t be rude. We’ve spent all summer discussing this.” He gripped the wheel, knuckles white. “The audition schedule hadn’t been published when I booked the trip to Austria, and when I called the president to ask for an individual evaluation for you he said they couldn’t make exceptions. I can’t apologize to you anymore. That’s the way it is.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I muttered. Not looking at him, I clicked the lock button and it popped up and down. Unlock/ lock. Unlock/lock. Missing the youth orchestra auditions left the high school marching band as the only musical ensemble that would fit into my fall schedule, so I had to join. “Besides, it’s Shining Birches that
matters, not the BYO.”
Shining Birches is
most prestigious summer music camp in the Northeast. I’d audition for it right after Thanksgiving, and one of the application requirements is “ensemble diversity,” which meant I had to play in a structured group this fall. Which is why I had to join the marching band.
Getting in to Shining Birches was part of following in my dad’s and grandfather’s footsteps—both of them went there in high school too. And both of them ended up as principal French horn players for the Boston Symphony Orchestra—exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Why mess with success? All I had to do was take their path.
“Are you sure you want to pursue auditioning this year? Starting high school is going to be a big enough challenge for you, I think.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I snapped. I squeezed the armrest.
“It’s just a lot of changes, Elsie. You have a rigorous academic schedule. You’re keeping up with your Tuesday/ Saturday private lessons. You’re joining a new ensemble that also practices twice a week. You’re younger than the other kids in your class. Shining Birches is typically for older high school students.” He ticked the reasons off on his fingers, but his voice sounded weary, like he was already tired of our fight.
“It wasn’t
choice to skip kindergarten,” I reminded him. He and my mom thought their only child would be bored since I already knew shapes and colors and numbers, but had been worried about me being the youngest in my class ever since. And what was such a big deal about having a busy schedule? I’d been plenty busy in junior high, playing in All-State orchestra, taking lessons, and doing schoolwork. “I can handle this. I
to audition for Shining Birches this year. You’re the one who always says that musicians need to take every opportunity they can to push themselves and grow, right?” There was nothing he could say to that. He just shook his head.
“I’m going to be late for practice if I don’t get going,” I added.
“Late for practice”—those were the magic words. He sighed again, and then leaned over and pecked me on the cheek. “Okay. Fine. You win. Go.”
I climbed out and grabbed my French horn case, feeling both heated and victorious. Dad could say all he wanted, but he knew how important Shining Birches was to me—and how important it could be to my career. The Boston Symphony resided there every summer, and when I got in, I’d be exposed to world-class conductors and players. I’d be among the best.
of the best. As a freshman!
The car pulled away, avoiding the yellow parking lot speed bumps, and I turned toward the building.
That’s when a whiff of panic blew threw me.
It was two weeks before school officially began, and I’d only been to Henry Herbert High School during eighth-grade orientation last spring. And the building was a
bigger than Howard Hoffer Junior High. I had
no idea
where I was going.
But once the snares started playing, I figured it out.
And once I entered the band room, I got whisked through check-in stations like I’d joined the army. I was measured for a uniform, handed checklists, music, a hatbox, and a boxy case that contained something called a mellophone, which I was supposed to play
of my horn. What?!
“You can’t march with a French horn,” said the blond girl sitting at the instrument table. “Well, you
, but barely anyone outside of the U.S. Navy band does. It doesn’t make sense.”
“No, not playing
my instrument
doesn’t make sense,” I snapped. What was I supposed to do, start over? How would
look on my Shining Birches application?
“Chill!” she said, holding up her hands in surrender. “I just give stuff out. Talk to your section leader or the band director about it.”
“Fine.” I snatched the oversized boxy case and moved on, fuming.
By the time I reached the fifth station, lockers, I was loaded with marching paraphernalia and ready to put everything down and get answers.
“Name?” The guy stretched behind the table wore a blue T-shirt and had a pair of sunglasses perched on top of his head. He had magnetic blue eyes. I gave him my name and instrument—“French horn, but everyone here thinks I’ll be playing mellophone”—and he gave me a locker number and combo, plus a smile that’d melt chocolate.
Even annoyed, I couldn’t take my eyes off the dimple in his chin.
I thanked him, finally pulling my gaze from his dimple and trying to concentrate on hating the mellophone, then stuck the piece of paper in my pocket and began gathering everything. Again.
As I turned away, the hatbox caught on the side of my shorts. The plastic hasp popped, and with an awkward jerk the bottom of the box swung open. A shiny black hat and plastic-wrapped fuzzy thing fell onto the floor.
“Whoop-whoop!” called the dimple-chinned guy at full volume. “Chicken down! I repeat, chicken down!”
The room went silent.
Everyone froze, eyes on me.
This guy—and his dimple—was suddenly not nearly as cute as he had been.

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