P is for piccolo

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer

When I was a kid in second grade, I began a love affair. I know, kind of young, but there it is.

I grew up in small town Saskatchewan, with a music program led by a man who dreamed big (I think his name was Mr. Jenner). I had only been introduced to three instruments when it came time to choose what I would play. First there was the piano which, in spite of the patient teachings from kind Mrs. McGill, I never excelled at. The trumpet beckoned for perhaps a week, but the case was bigger than I was. My friend Lisa’s sister played flute and the moment I heard it, I knew I’d found my instrument.

Besides, in the marching band, I could carry it. That little detail may have been the deciding factor.

I played poorly for years. In fact, my dad used to leave the house when I pulled out my flute–a sacrificial gift from my parents that I’m sure they both regretted at times. My cat often climbed up on the bed, stand on her back legs and reach up to pull at the source of the offensive sound. My brother sometimes threw things in my direction, though in retrospect he did that more when I was at the piano, so it was perhaps a win for me.

There were a few brilliant years in high school with the wonderful Mr. Benson, and a turn in the Alberta Honour Band where I was never more grateful that I’d turned down the trumpet. The Honour Band practiced every day for hours, in preparation for making a recording at the end of the week. Those poor trumpet players–some of them ended the day with lips the size of their heads.

After high school, in part because I didn’t know what else to do, I decided to study the flute. My amazing teacher was Sandra Hoffman, who, in spite of being six inches shorter than me, nonetheless intimidated me every time I went to see her. Unfortunately, that was never enough to make me truly practice (or, in retrospect, maybe my cowering was a reaction to not having done so).

In my junior year she realized that I, in lieu of practicing, was relying on my ability to mimic her corrections. She responded to my laziness and  gave me music I could neither predict nor copy. It was atonal, arhythmic and awful to my ears. There was not a moment of that year which I enjoyed, not a bar of music that resonated with me. I hated it. It was also one of the best gifts she could have given me, as I learned to relax and enjoy the benefits of doing the work.

As we planned for my much-more-enjoyable senior recital, she suggested I include a piece for piccolo. I wish I could tell you what it was–but the memorabilia and the music is gone thanks to some flooding in my home a few decades ago. It doesn’t matter though. I remember how it made me feel. We always remember feelings, and this was special.

It was a low and haunting piece for solo wooden piccolo with a simple tambour drum accompaniment. The music never once ascended to the higher registers most of us have heard soaring over marching music. To be fair, that was one of the reasons I loved the piccolo. I knew that everyone could hear me, whereas sometimes the flute can be muted by other instruments. But the piccolo? Never. In the drum piece, I discovered more than soaring. I discovered depth and soul.

How I wish I could share the piece with you. Since I can’t, I present these two offerings from talented players. Neither is a marching piece tickling the stratosphere. Both artists play the way I wish I could. Enjoy!



Many of my writing friends are participating in the A-Z blogging challenge this month. I could not, but in reading their posts, I kind of wish I had. Three of them invited me to take a day. This is the first one, for Carryl Robinson. Check her blog, Echoes from the Cave, to read about the things she “most closely associates with being alive”. I bet you’ll find some new things to love.


2 thoughts on “P is for piccolo

  1. What a great story to read. I would love so much to write something so special. I always wanted to play piano and when my aunt gave us hers I was ecstatic. A month later our house burnt down and there went my piano and any hopes of playing anytime soon in my life. Until this day I have not had the privilege. But, I have had the privilege of hearing personally, Crystal, play her flute. OMGosh, she is amazing. She put a smile on my face from ear to ear and gave me goosebumps. Sometimes, what we want is not what we are meant to have. I personally am grateful Crystal did not continue with the trumpet. The flute and piccolo are so much more her character and style and grace. Thank you Crystal.

    1. Gail, thank you so much. You have no idea how much your generous encouragement means.

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