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Another failed sports season passed: no hits, no touchdowns. I entered 6th grade with my dreams of becoming a jock squashed. Then my parents informed me that I was enrolling in band. Still clinging to my ESPN hopes, I warned my parents that taking band would be social suicide. In the end, I entered school with a new trumpet, expecting the worst.

Luckily, my prediction was wrong. Music transformed the way I understand myself and helped me understand the world.

As a teenage boy, I can naturally have a hard time expressing my emotions. Music helps me recognize my feelings and gives me an outlet for them. I remember the first time I played Holst’s “Planets Suite.” During the famous Jupiter ballad section, I felt a rush of indescribable vitality. I was initially intrigued by the mesmerizing strum of the harp, and then was lost in the powerful tone of the trumpet. I felt tension building and layers of depth adding up until the final release on a joyous open chord. I was surprised by my goosebumps and moist eyes. Music had released my bottled-up inspirations.

As I studied more, I came to value the connection between music and social change. Each is a tool that helps me better understand the other. For example, the 4th movement of Shostakovich’s “7th Symphony” starts with a mood of foreboding and fear, but suddenly transitions to a “happily ever after” ending. This shift was puzzling to me at first, but when I considered Shostakovich’s need to express the anguish and resilience of the Soviet people, combined with Stalin’s strict monitoring of his music, I saw that the ending was fitting. Understanding history gives meaning to music, and understanding music makes history real for me.

Much as music has advanced from simple Gregorian chant to Mahler’s complex, emotional compositions, I have evolved from a resistant student to a dedicated music aficionado. Music is for me a punching bag, a journal, and a teacher. Although I gave up my dreams of being a star athlete, I have gained a better reality as a musician.

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