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How Sound! Euphonium Totally Nails Being a Band Geek

by Rose Bridges,

When I first found out about Sound! Euphonium, I was thrilled. I'd enjoyed what I'd seen of KyoAni shows, and now here was one that seemed tailor-made for me, for one simple reason: in high school, I was a pretty big band geek. I was in every musical ensemble my school offered, because I couldn't get enough. Most of my friends were in band, too, and I eagerly looked forward to festivals and competitions. Heck, I ended up majoring in music and I'm now getting a Ph.D. in it, so I guess that obsession never went away.

Anime about school clubs don't always reflect the reality of the setting they're in. Sometimes it's just an excuse for a goofy slice-of-life comedy, which can be great, but Sound! Euphonium is right on the nose about what it's like to be in school band. Here are just some of the ways:

We do actually name our instruments!

In Sound! Euphonium, Hazuki names her tuba, and everyone treats it as a little silly and overenthusiastic. But it happens! Musicians name their instruments all the time, as a term of endearment and a handy nickname. I named my cello when I first got it in fifth grade: the highly original name "Mr. Cello." It and my other instruments went through some different names over the years, especially as I traded them in for new, bigger ones. I wasn't alone, either. A lot of my friends did the same. The only one I remember was my high school best friend naming her flute "Fred." None of them came close to the majesty of "Tubacabra."

People get tribal about their sections—especially if they're otherwise ignored.

I got more than a little excited when Midori's character was announced for Sound! Euphonium; I was the contrabass player, too. The contrabass is a pretty uncommon instrument to take up (in at least half of my high school band's pieces there were no parts for the contrabass!), and I felt an immediate connection to Midori as a result. Band and orchestra geeks not only love their individual instruments, but have a camaraderie with other players who share them. (At least, when they're not competing with them for festival spots.) Asuka's enthusiasm for her bass section was pretty typical of section leaders I knew in high school. A lot of people don't care about instruments like euphoniums, tubas and basses, so it's up to the people who play them to make up for it!

Side note: the instrument keychains in this show need to exist. I can just see my teenage self desperately searching vending machines for "Contrabass-kun."

Learning an instrument requires a lot of dedication and discipline, even to be "just ok".

One thing that bothers me about a lot of music anime, like K-ON!, is how the characters instantly sound great even when they've just started playing their instruments. I've played bass guitar, too—and you didn't want to hear it my first time plugging in. Sound! Euphonium not only nails how much hard work it is just to sound passable, but captures that "mediocre high school band" sound very well. The terror isn't so much in being awful, but getting lost in that weird soup of "bland" along the way to good. (Unless you play the one instrument where there's no middle-ground.) I knew lots of people like Aoi who got "band burnout" because they loved playing music, but couldn't make time to be as good as their teacher required. Musicians are known for partying hard, but the people who make it spend way more time in the practice room. They live for band, like Asuka or Reina.

A lot of stuff is run by the older students, rather than the teacher.

Sound! Euphonium's band situation is a little different than my own, since it's an after-school club in the show. Those are naturally pretty student-run, compared to actual courses, which is what most American teenagers will experience. Still, a lot of what happens in rehearsal was student-run.

Think about it this way: It's easy for a music teacher to know the basics of every instrument. So they can easily guide everyone in the first few years. However, by high school you're expected to have some mastery. Most people only ever get that on a few instruments, if that. So the students who've been playing for five or more years at this point might actually know their instruments better than the teacher. They're the best people to lead their sections, and figure out stuff like fingerings or where to breathe in a passage.

So students ran the sectionals. Just like in Sound! Euphonium, how much work actually happened in them varied based on who was in charge. Sometimes you had slave driver section leaders who were stricter than the teacher. Other times, they turned into goof-off sessions. The seniors even conducted the band when we had substitute teachers. That experience brings me to my next point…

Teaching kids music can be both fun and frustrating, and it's hard to know where to draw the line.

I have less experience on the other side of the podium, but enough to know I sympathize with Taki. A lot. He pushes the band hard, but always seems a little conflicted about it. Band is supposed to be fun, but you also need to push people to be in shape for festival. Band teachers need both a lot of patience and ability to lay down the law, and not many people have that. I got to conduct our school orchestra one day when we had a substitute, and I nearly snapped at how many violinists were not getting the piece right in spite of my constant reminders. It takes a certain temperament to be able to handle that day after day. I think Taki is exactly what Sound! Euphonium's band needs. He won't suffer fools, and he gives them the push they need. Yet, he's also very understanding and patient.

My high school was a small one, but with a lot of students in band and orchestra because we were required to take an arts class. So the group had a huge variation in skill level, and we often sounded as clumsy together as Kitauji's band. We didn't always get the perfect "straight 1's" at festivals, but it was always fun playing with them. I'm sure great things are ahead for Kumiko, Hazuki, Midori and the rest of the gang. I can't wait to see where it takes them – and along the way, I can continue to travel back to my own band geek past thanks to Sound! Euphonium's near-perfect recreation of that very specific time, place, atmosphere and feeling.

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