Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Making Music on the Track
Just because you know how to play a note or a chord, doesn’t mean you know how to put them together to make an actual song. This is my story (click here right now! & then come back...):
In the third grade I tried out for my elementary school’s elite chorus, The Singing Saints, not necessarily because I wanted to be in a choral group but because my friend Amy was trying out. I still remember finding out the results of my try out via our new high-tech 80s-model answering machine – it was probably the first message I ever received. It was Amy, giggling, who revealed that we both made the cut. Chorus turned out to be something I did enjoy (except for that one terrifying Christmas concert at the local nursing home), and I actually did learn a lot about singing by participating in the choral group at a young age.
When I was 14 I decided that I was going to teach myself to play guitar. I can’t even remember why I decided to do this – probably because I thought boys would dig it. Looking back on it, I lived a large portion of my adolescent years with the mindset of a pubescent boy, but I digress as usual. I got my dad’s old acoustic guitar out from the hall closet, bought new strings for it, learned to tune it, learned some chords, and learned to play some popular music for which I could find sheet music in my small country town (which at that time was REM). I eventually graduated to electric guitar, which I received for Christmas about a year later. On that, I learned to play REM AND Cracker. Impressive, I know.
Then, in my third year of college, my girlfriends and I had a drug-induced revelation that we should start a band, and The X-Girlfriends were formed: Anna on drums, Dana on bass, Jaclyn on keyboard, and me on the mic and guitar. We called our brand of music “pop punk”, and our influences were The Donnas and The Rondelles. We practiced every week, sometimes twice a week, and in our two-year tenure we scored some gigs and played out ($100 goes to the person who hands over the video from Café Tattoo so I can destroy it!). Regardless of all these things that sound really awesome and make it seem like we knew what we were doing, we so didn’t. In retrospect, we were just a step above horrible. But why? Independently we all knew how to play our instruments. I knew how to sing. But when it all came together, we were a fucking mess – kind of like my individual contribution to the All Star try-out scrimmage last weekend.
In derby we start by teaching new skaters the basics: stops, sprints, cuts, and blocks. As they progress we start to incorporate these individual skills into drills that mimic potential bout situations – how to block someone out of bounds, how to break up two opposing players, how to get in front of someone. We really do try to build on skills and groups of skills to ease skaters into game play, yet there’s always a few skaters who remain great at drills but are surprisingly bad at actually playing roller derby. The good news to them is that with time and practice they can improve and become wonderful skaters. The key word here is PRACTICE, and not just skills practice, but practical practicing of, in their case, actual game play.
I wasn’t too thrilled about trying out for the All Stars after having attended less than 10 practices since my return from injuries in September and then again in late October (god, I’m a klutz), but I really wanted to play against Oly in April, so I figured I’d give it a whirl and see where my skills actually were. Individually, my skills are still strong, and even after a 15-lb weight gain my endurance is nowhere as shot as I would have expected it to be, but as I tried to put everything I knew together, it just wasn’t meshing, and trust me, I could tell I was off as the scrimmage portion of the tryout was taking place. On paper, I could have told you what I should have done in each situation that arose, but in practice, I became confused, indecisive, and unable to execute any string of truly effective moves. Ick. I’m out of practice – not with the skills, but with my team. There’s something about practicing together that can’t be replicated in any other way. I now know that I need to attend as many scrimmage practices as humanly possible to get my mojo back as a productive and working part of the whole.
As for The X-Girlfriends, we hung out a lot, but we never really practiced enough. Had we done so, who knows? I’m still amused by many of our old songs, especially Sugar Bobby, about a wealthy middle-aged guy I knew through my job as a Camel Girl, and Meter Maid, a song about my disdain for ticket-happy meter maids in Baltimore who would ticket my car as I was loading it up outside of work with cases of Camel cigarettes. Being a Camel Girl was both a fun and annoying job at times. If you ever happen to catch me or any of my old band-mates out, buy us a beer and we’ll sing you some songs. And hopefully soon you’ll be able to see me make some music on the track again as well.