Back in 8th grade I heard about a class that was offered at my high school. Now remember, high school in my district starts at 10th grade so I had two more years till I moved up. It was a class based on learning how to write and understand music better and it was called AP Theory and Harmony. I did not want to take that class. No single fiber of my being wanted to take any class that had the letters AP at the beginning because that meant Advanced Placement. Those classes are for those students lucky enough to be blessed with a super brain, or crazy enough to never want to sleep and always do homework for the sake of maybe getting some college credit. No, thank you. I’ll stick with my level three average classes and level two math and science classes and not stress myself out too much. Luckily there was a better option for me, a class that was like a dumbed down version of AP Theory. So I, of course, asked my orchestra teacher about it because she’s the one that taught it. She said I should at least wait till 11th grade. That way I can get used to the speed and workload of high school and take the class in 11th grade when I can manage my time better and devote more time to it.
So I get to 10th grade and it’s time to start scheduling classes for the next year which would be 11th grade. I asked for the non-AP Theory class and it seemed like I was scheduled for that specific one. Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t enough interest in the class, because I think I might have been the only one wanting that class, so the non-AP class was not offered. Now there’s no normal person class which means I get moved up to the AP class almost by default, and I was not too thrilled when I found out. Let me paint this picture of a fiery hell for you. I knew almost next to nothing about music at this point. I can (barely) read violin music and that is it. I have no idea about time signatures, the different keys, sharps, flats, double sharps, double flats, naturals, or anything like that. I thought they just were pretty decorations to make the music look more complicated. I didn’t even know there were different scales either! So I’m completely screwed in that aspect and now here’s the real kicker. I was the only person in that whole class who didn’t know that there were different clefs and not all instruments just read in treble clef. Which also meant I didn’t know that the notes are different for each of the clefs, because why would I? What I mean is that a C in treble clef is moved down a whole step visually but is the same note in alto clef. So in tenor clef it is moved up one whole step, and in bass clef it is moved down 2 whole steps. Again, these are only visual manipulations, the tones are still named the same but they are just on different lines and/or spaces. In one day I learned I am the only person who has no idea about all the other stuff I mentioned earlier (the keys, accidentals and naturals, etc.). I was stressed beyond belief the first day when I realized that I was in the AP class. I knew right away that something was up when all these people who are musically inclined are in the class with me. Thankfully I wasn’t the only eleventh grader in that class but I was the most musically challenged 11th grader and also the most musically challenged person in the whole class of 10 people. Then, my suspicions about not being in the normal brain class were confirmed when the teacher said to the class “Welcome to AP Theory and Harmony.” Surprisingly I was able to keep from saying the words “Oh shit” whenever she gave the welcoming. Thankfully, like I said before, the teacher was the orchestra director/teacher and that was somewhat comforting knowing I had someone in my corner who knew what kind of hardworking kid I can be. But I still was not prepared for the abuse my brain was going to be taking from the very end of August to about the very beginning of June. You know how they say the devil doesn’t use any lube, well this class was that same devil and my brain went to a living hell.
My health actually took a toll from this class. Now people may say that’s an exaggeration but I can’t tell you how many migraines I got from that class alone. I had a physics class full of idiots ,and by idiots I mean annoying people, minus the few who actually didn’t suck at existing, and a math class. My two worst subjects gave me fewer migraines than the class I was looking forward to the most. Hell, the people in physics were so annoying I actually asked the teacher if I could bring in some in-ear headphones, sans iPod, so I could block out the noise during tests and classwork. I was allowed and I loved watching peoples’ faces turn to straight up confusion and watching those living annoyances ask the teacher about why I have earbuds. I couldn’t hear them, I could only read their lips. I’m bad at math and science as it is and since this class had a bit of both I did not need anything hurting my grade. So you can see why I am still a little shocked to this day that I got more migraines in AP Theory than in physics and math combined and how it isn’t an exaggeration. There was one migraine that hit me around early to mid-April that lasted for two days and started around second period which was when AP Theory was and lasted into the next morning, which never happens. So, I say once again, this class was insane!
I actually did start learning things pretty quickly though. But then the second week came around and we got into the difficult stuff. After the short section on clefs and how to read them it was an uphill battle and the hill was 70 degrees backwards and on fire, and I was on fire and not in the kicking butt and taking names way. There were reprieves though, like having to put holiday music to an animation, unfortunately lost that due to poor data management and a low quality Stewie from Family Guy flash drive. But for the most part I would just be praying for 50% minimum on nearly every test. The midterm was about a 63% and of course back then when a miracle like that happened the only proper response was to Tebow it, and I Tebowed like the best of them when I got that grade. I’m not the most superstitious person but I’m pretty sure the rabbit’s foot I wore that day helped a bit because that was pure luck I didn’t get a worse grade than that.
Eventually there was THE test, the AP test, the reason why most people take the class in the first place. Apparently, and I could be wrong, but for the AP class to count for college credit you have to pass this monster of a test. To take a class like that on a gamble like this one is a level of testicular or ovarian fortitude that is downright lunacy. There might be a bit of gambling addiction there too but what do I know, I just took the class to learn things, not to get further in college. So I took the test for fun and for experience. I might have also done it for masochistic reasons because who needs an un-fried brain, right? But there is a total shocker that came out of this test, from what I remember not a single person passed. If anyone it might have been one or two of us but the majority of us were wondering what the hell we just endured. It was not a fun day but we at least got out of class till about fourth period so there was that. I also showed up in the middle of fourth period and immediately was stared at by at least 50 percent of the people in orchestra. All they saw was this kid who couldn’t understand music to save his life walking in from the test equivalent of Vietnam. I, of course, got grilled by anyone who was about one or two seats away from me and it was the predictable “How bad was it,” “Do you think you passed,” kind of questions. It was a pretty cool feeling knowing that any of those musically inclined people who would be taking that class next year haven’t even taken the class at that point. I felt like I was a step ahead of them. But unfortunately, I still knew so little that it was almost like they were a step ahead of me because they could have probably passed that class with no problem by the time they were in junior high. I ended up getting a one on that AP test out of a possible five. It helped though that when my parents came in to parent teacher conferences and asked why their child’s brain is fried to hell every night from one sheet of homework the teacher told them that it sometimes takes some kids longer for their brain to get that info in class to click and once it clicks they just fly. When I heard that two months in I kept waiting for everything to click but it never did.
But the best part of the class was when I got the chance to write an original song. Up to this point we were told the rules of song writing and to follow them without fail. It was frowned upon back in the day (and by that I mean Vivaldi and Bach times and even earlier) to use certain techniques and certain pitches together or even end a song in a certain way. But now, as a class, we can flip the finger to those rules and write how we want and what we want (school appropriate of course so I couldn’t write something similar to Blow by Theory of a Deadman). So, thankfully, at this point I had a band to perform a song. We'll get to them in the next post. I just had to write something that was worthy of being performed at the Spring orchestra concert. Remember how I said the kids who take AP classes for college credit are ballsy gamblers? Well this was my way of being one of them. Taking a class so I can not only learn how to read and write music but also to hopefully be able to perform a song with a band live. I was about to learn how hard it was to write music and it was an awakening of the rudest kind that I was not prepared for.