Blend: The Good/Bad Teacher Argument
Featuring: Hibike! Euphonium (Episode 4)
As always, spoiler alert that we'll be revisiting elements of what happened in this episode. Please make sure you watch the episode first!
Concert band is something many of us indulge in during high school. You're in the midst of exploring what interests you, and since most of us like some form of music, it sounds like a great way to fill up your elective slots. This week, Hibike! Euphonium takes a close look at the highs and lows of this choice.
Discontent with their instructor's decision to cancel their SunFes performance in the case of failed improvement by the following week, the ensemble leaders call for a meeting. It really demonstrates the level of standard the school has in its band when section leaders are issued, as casual schools will encompass the "everyone is equal" motto to prioritize enjoyment over improvement. Although they're facing defeat before even getting to SunFes, the leaders decide to press on and accept their instructor's challenge.
Taki-sensei throws the first punch, and sends his students onto the track to run some laps. This 'Karate Kid' approach to his teachings immediately frustrate and confuse the majority of the ensemble. Fun little fact: my first ever act of teenage rebellion spawned when our fantastic band instructor was away on a school trip. A substitute teacher took over during our early morning jazz band and had us put down our instruments, raise up fake instruments, and make false rhythm noises in time with the part we were stuck on. To this day, I don't know if it was beneficial or not.
In retaliation, we ended up warning our concert bandmates that today's band class would probably result in what we experienced that morning in jazz band. We brought up a rebellion that led to over 60% of the ensemble skipping class. Yes, we had to ultimately fill out apology letters when our original teacher returned, but to this day I don't understand why we were practicing in such a manner. Perhaps these students started feeling something similar here. However, I can now respect that teachers have their own ways of teaching, and it was probably rude of us to just brush her aside.
Here's the nasty truth people don't want to hear: making nationals isn't a walk in the park. It requires endless practice, separation from your friends, situations of alpha-dog establishments and feelings of strong animosity towards those that "get it" before you do. It's bitter, crude and the antithesis of what people think joining band is all about. Our concert band never tried for nationals, so we had a much more open environment with a very outwardly enthusiastic teacher. If you're trying to rank however, this is the first step towards decay and rebirth.
So naturally, the students hate this teacher that takes the band too seriously, is brutally honest about how poor their performances are, and offers nothing more than confusing instructionals towards improvement. But this episode had quite a brilliant addition for this crisis. Alpha-dog established Kosaka Reina has the skills that the ensemble as a whole lacks. As a result, the other members complaining about Taki-sensei actually bothers her. While I might have initially agreed that Taki was a new concert band teacher that is trying his "sports team styled teachings" in the wrong place, a few little hints tell me he's not actually new to this business.
The first cue came when Taki-sensei was giving each section a different exercise to work on. This isn't a form of creativity, these are custom-tailored to the skills of each group as a whole. Did you notice that while the weaker trombones were made to hold up tissues with their breath for ten minutes straight, the more seasoned bass section was learning to achieve overtones, with instruments in hand? Yes, this is a clear sign that Taki can instinctively tell the differences in skill between the groups.
The second cue comes from how the more experienced players were leaning more towards supporting Taki-sensei's teachings, while the newcomers were doing nothing but slam their two-faced instructor. Kumiko described him as "nicer than she thought he was", while Kosaka was straight out insulted that others were talking smack behind his back. I had a similar form of catharsis when I reached my senior years of concert band; suddenly, I realized how much better I was and why some of our tough times had to happen to get there. Meanwhile, new students were constantly entering the band, wearing the depressed face that maybe band wasn't what they wanted to do after all.
The final cue is hard to explain unless you've been in an ensemble like this. The band raises their instruments, takes a deep breath, then pulls off a performance that convinces Taki-sensei that they've passed his qualifications. For this case, we actually must not observe Taki, but instead consider the emotional standpoint of the ensemble after hearing that they qualify. Is the reaction to toss out their taint for their teacher like Daniel did for Miyagi in 'The Karate Kid', or is it to live in the moment and consider what the future with this questionable teacher will be like? "I passed his audition, but I still have to nail the actual performance".
I believe the character that best illustrates this natural split is the enigmatic beauty, Nakagawa Natsuki. It's evident that she's not at the top of her league, but she's no pushover in her section either. There's a great scene where Kato is practicing poorly, and Nakagawa is taking a break at the window with her earbuds in. If you've reached a higher level of playing than your peers, waiting for them to catch up starts to frustrate you. The bellowing of failed notes starts to grate on you, and your standards keep rising this way. I feel it was very expressive of the episode to show that while Nakagawa was stepping away from Kato's beginner level rehearsals, having the intermediate colleague Kumiko ask her to return to practice had her walking back to take her place, almost with a look of understanding and respect. Something tells me that if Kato was the one to initiate this request, the expression on Nakagawa's face would have been somewhat different. To tie her to the point I was previously making, there are literally no scenes of her voicing her love or hate relationship with Taki, nor are there are any instances of him making any sort of contact with her. To me and most probably even Taki, she's a center of focus over the challenges to come. Something in her current attitude will spark a dramatic story arc down the line, I can just feel it.
So yes, playing in an ensemble is insanely grueling and tough at times. You bond with section members that are on a similar skill level to yours. You begin to curse those others that drag you down, and start tossing them the easier parts so the band sounds better as a whole. While on the outside, band is a stress-free elective for those with nothing better to do, once the group wants to set goals, it's a whole new ballpark. At the end of the day though, it is true that the most fun of being in an ensemble is making music together. As long as we never forget that feeling, these additional expressions of animosity will ultimately pale in comparison.