Honour, and all that

“I’d be honoured.”  What a weird expression.   What does that actually mean?  Is it a dishonour to not be given an opportunity to do something?

For that matter, what is honour, anyway?  At first glance Honour appears to be the good cop to bad cop Shame, not an internal vibe but an external stamp of approval.

I don’t think it’s that simple, though.  When we feel good or bad about doing something, it isn’t all coming from the outside.  That external feedback sets in motion a resonance from our internal tuning forks, that part of us that reacts qualitatively and anchors our judgement.  It can inform our morality, our tastes in music (or indeed anything that has an aesthetic component), and our actions.

What would happen if that external element was ignored, silenced, or eliminated outright?  What if our sense of honour could tune itself to our internal pulse, rather than being split between the inside and the outside, between me and not-me?

What if we synchronized honour to our own dreams, to serve as an impetus to go in the right direction with increased vigour, less doubt, less downtime?

An example from my own current experiences:  I’m second clarinet for the Northwinds Community Concert Band in Winnipeg.  We meet on Wednesday evenings during the school year, 35-40 people assembling to rehearse or perform.  Every now and then I find myself in the hot seat, and this is why:

For the last couple of seasons, the clarinet section has varied tremendously in size from week to week.  If all the regulars all show up, there’s me and four other other players.  I’m one of the newer kids on the block:  I joined Northwinds in 2011, with no prior concert band experience but about seven years of private lessons plus a successful Royal Conservatory of Music Grade 6 examination in clarinet.  The people who have been in first chair over the years have all had more band experience than me, and their playing is awesome.

But what happens if our first clarinet can’t make it to rehearsal or to a show?  Tag — I’m it.  I’m the logical choice, and usually the only viable choice for backup first clarinet.  From my initial deer-in-the-headlights fumbling when I first walked into the band room on January 28, 2011, I’ve made steady improvement.  I have a good ear, a decent sense of pitch, a phonographic memory that lets me mentally rehearse when I’m away from the practice room, my sight-reading is above average, and I haven’t missed a single rehearsal in nearly seven years.  Even though I tend to the quiet, shy side I managed to get nominated and then elected to the vice-president spot on the band’s executive.  If first clarinet is away I do my best to help out because I love playing with the band.

But oh! how it scares me.  Compared to my happy place, playing harmony parts, first chair is a terrifying responsibility.  The parts tend to be fast, intricate, substantially higher in pitch, and exposed.  Most of the recognizable melodies are in the first clarinet parts, and if you miss a note everyone will hear it.

How is this a matter of honour?  Well, although I usually just fill in for one practice or one performance at a time, I want to do the best job I possibly can.  In fact, I want to surprise everyone by knocking off all those clarinet riffs cleanly and at tempo so that there isn’t a gaping hole at the soprano end of the band’s sound.  I don’t know what other people are expecting of me, and I’d rather not care that much about their expectations.  I know what I want to be able to do, and I know what I have to do to make it happen.

And when I sit down to play, that’s all that really matters.

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