Craig Morris from his LIV Music website "Hits it Out of the Park" with this insightful Article

12,000 Reasons to Play Craig Morris - LivMusic Trumpet Artist
May 31, 2006

Three days, 12,000 performances. The plausibility of the numbers may seem dubious, but they are correct. What’s more, each performance was given by a high school teenager enrolled in band, orchestra, or choir. Where can one see such an event, you ask? If you know much about high school music programs in the United States, the answer will come as no surprise – Texas.

Each year the Texas State Solo and Ensemble Competition (TSSEC), held at the University of Texas and Texas State Universities, plays host to the most talented high school music students from all across this sprawling state. From twirlers to trombones, voices to violas, this competition has categories for just about anything that relates to music at the high school level. Busloads of high school students arrive at the campus and disperse into small packs that prowl the area looking for a place to meet, warm up, have lunch, or relax. Everywhere you walk, you hear playing or singing; you see equipment of all shapes and sizes being whisked here and there. You see Band Directors frantically trying to gather their students together, only to launch them off a moment later in twelve different directions, a room number nervously clutched in their young hands. These students will somehow find this room and go on to perform for what they may see as some grouchy taskmaster of a judge that is there to dissect their performance like one of those frogs from high school biology class. Yes, you guessed it; that’s where I come in.

Truth be known, those judges aren’t actually grouchy taskmasters at all. In fact, the judges are people who dedicate their valuable time, energy, and expertise to helping young students learn and improve *– doing whatever they can to further the art of musical performance amongst the young people of today. When I was asked to serve as a judge at TSSEC, I was honored and delighted. For me, judging this competition is a means of coming full circle. I have attended it as a Band Director’s son – watching the chaos through a child’s eyes – as a participant – nervously anticipating a performance into which I have invested hundreds of hours of preparation – and now as a judge – listening to the performances and setting the standard by which these young musicians will be evaluated. I have now seen the full spectrum of this unique event, and quite honestly, the more I see of it, the more I am amazed. It is an organizational miracle that it doesn’t simply implode upon itself, a miracle that is secured by the tireless work of its Director, Richard Floyd, and his incredible team.

Even more incredible, however, are the performances themselves. They aren’t all spectacular, though some of them should definitely have you scurrying to your practice room, but they are all interesting in one way or another. Some students arrive dressed in suits or formal dresses, others in jeans and sandals (not the best choice for a good impression on the judge). Some walk in confidently, shaking the judge’s hand and introducing themselves, while others enter quietly, as if they don’t want to be seen. The students come from a wide array of racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds. Some of them sport shiny new professional level instruments, while others arrive with something that looks like it was bought for $50 at a local garage sale. But almost every one of these students shares common bonds: they care about music, and they care about playing their instrument. Sure, some of them care more than others, and some of them are not blissfully in love with playing their instrument, but they all care on one level or another. They have all made sacrifices to attend. They have chosen to practice instead of watching TV, talking on the phone, or playing a video game.

They have spent many hours refining their solo, trying to make it the best that they can. They have experienced the frustration of continued failure and the joy of the unexpected breakthrough. In addition to this, there is the matter of their attendance. After all, they are present and accounted for. They have chosen to dedicate their Memorial Day Weekend to one short performance of 5-10 minutes in a place that for some of them is over 500 miles away. They could have gone to the lake, to the beach, to a movie with friends, or on an outing with their family, but they have shunned theses things, and instead have traveled to Austin, Texas, where they sit chewing their nails in nervous anticipation of the performance that awaits them. Of all the things I observed as a judge, the mere presence of all these people is perhaps the most meaningful. Some of the students would be very quick to point out that this competition is not a big deal, that playing their instrument is not so important to them. We can’t necessarily believe everything they say, however. After all, it is seldom cool to admit that you are gaga over playing your trombone. But at the end of the day, where are they? What choice did they make for how to spend their weekend? That’s right, they are at the competition. It’s another classic example of actions speaking louder than words.

So what’s the point? You understand it’s a nice competition, but why write an article about it and broadcast it to trumpet players all over the globe? The point is about passion and significance. In this day and age of pop media rule, of techno-gadgets and video games, where we are we brusquely informed about what is cool and what is not, it can be very easy to feel as if playing an instrument is simply not that significant anymore, as if we are exercising some ancient ritual that is getting more and more detached from the pace of modern life. But before you put playing a musical instrument in the Museum of Ancient Human Hobbies, remember these things: one state, three days, 12,000 performances. Also remember that all of the performances were given by teenagers – the same people that are the painted by the media as self-absorbed, iPod using, video game playing slackers, whose lack of work ethic and morality surely signal the end of civilization as we know it. This, however, we know cannot be true. I took a long, hard look around while walking the halls at TSSEC. I saw students with a purpose, students with a cause. These young people have worked hard to hone their musical abilities in order to display them in the best possible light. Some have succeeded, some have failed, but all of them are making a statement: playing a musical instrument is important; it is worth making sacrifices.

The next time you start feeling like playing the trumpet is an obscure obsession, the type shared only by stick-horse jockeys and professional Scrabble players, just remember these numbers: 12,000 and 3. Remind yourself of the sacrifices, the hard work, the frustration, and think too about the joy of a performance that exceeds expectations. Think again about that last weekend in May, where a bunch of Texas teenagers remind us about the value of making music that is all your own. Remember these things when you are lost in the blinding array of modern marketing and gadgetry. There are a lot of wonderful things in our world today, but no matter how you draw it, it is certainly clear, playing a musical instrument remains firmly entrenched as a valued pursuit in our fast-forward world.

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