Melissa Bitter, artistic nomad
Writer, photographer, musician and food lover. Traveling the world. Documenting life.
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Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved music. I took piano lessons, played my sister’s violin every now and then, and sang arias in the backyard (oblivious to the fact that the entire neighborhood could hear me) all before the age of seven. I sang with a large children’s choir at a worldwide church conference around the age of eight. I now realize this was my first major performance.
When I was in third grade, I quit piano and took up the flute. I still vividly remember when the decision was made. I was sitting in front of my grandfather’s upright piano, the one with the chipped ivory keys, talking with my mom and dad. The flooring was a plywood sub-floor, we hadn’t saved up enough money to put in carpet yet. My older sister was spinning in circles, sitting in the wooden fruit bowl, her arms pushing herself around and around. I was jealous that she could still fit in the bowl, it seems like I’ve always been taller. My parents had decided that I was old enough to start another instrument and they wanted to know which one I wanted to play. We’d discussed different instruments, and we somehow had narrowed my choices down to the flute and clarinet.
As we talked, it was unfortunate that every time I thought of the clarinet, my mind fixated on the word ‘net’. No matter how much my parents explained and re-explained, I couldn’t get rid of the mental image of a brown fishing net, sagging down from some unknown point above, draping in triangle fashion before me. So, um, yeah. The clarinet wasn’t quite appealing.
On the other hand, I kept thinking back on how a flutist had performed in church a few weeks earlier; she’d seemed so angelic. I wanted to be angelic too. And so it was decided. My parents rented a flute, I stopped my piano lessons, and a flute teacher was found.
Fast forward a little, when I was in 8th grade, the high school music director approached me to ask about my plans for college. Was I going to attend? I replied, “Yes.” He wondered how I was going to pay for it, we talked about scholarships. He related that it was very difficult to get a music scholarship. He said, “Everyone and their dog plays the flute, you’ll want to switch to bassoon.”
And so I went to the high school and checked out a bassoon and took it back to middle school and played piccolo and bassoon through 9th grade. Although it was difficult at first, bassoon became the love of my musical life! Its rich, mellow, and versatile tones were perfect.
In High School, I took both band and orchestra. I played the bassoon with Regional Orchestras, and was invited to play in All-State a few times. I continued to play the piccolo during the summers, when I marched with the marching band. The summer between my Sophomore and Junior years, I served as Drum Major. During my Senior year I served as Band VP and also sang in the school’s choir.
I won a prestigious music scholarship to attend Brigham Young University, where I played with the Wind Symphony, the Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra, the Opera Orchestra, and Early Music Ensemble, and numerous other groups. I did recordings for a short film, a musical, and a 20th Century music composition class. I played with the orchestra during the closing ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics and have subbed with the Utah Symphony. With elite touring ensembles, I toured the West Coast of the U.S., Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and Russia. In all, it was a fabulous time, I was pursuing my dreams, the love of my life. The thing that fulfilled me the most, brought me so much joy. I look back on these years as my heyday.
By the time I reached the end of university, I couldn’t play anymore. My arms and wrists had constant shooting pains and aches, the muscles in my shoulders and neck were permanently knotted, my fingers would go numb within a few minutes of playing.
And so I walked away.
For a time, I was fine.
I moved to Washington, DC, attended the National Symphony Orchestra often. As the months passed, I found that the orchestra often played music that I had played or studied, and instead of feeling the elated thrill of much-loved-memories, I would cry instead. It wasn’t long before I stopped attending all together. I found I didn’t like feeling depressed, and so I avoided the thing that made me sad.
I met someone recently (May, 2013) who knew me from those glory days. And for a brief moment, my heart trilled as I thought of concerts long past, basking in the knowledge that someone now, in the present, knew me for what I once was.
Melissa, The Musician
Here are a few clips of
Melissa playing the bassoon.
© 2014 Melissa Bitter. All Rights Reserved.