Injured army musician turns crutches into flutes
CPS. Jessica Tang has been playing the clarinet since the age of 9, but with perfect tone she can pick up almost any woodwind and make music – including, it turns out, her crutches.
Stuck in the state of survival after a serious injury during basic army training, Tang used duct tape and ingenuity to fashion a mouthpiece that transformed the adjustable leg segment of a crutch. into a flute.
“I could do one in about three minutes,” Tang said, and she often did it with the abundant crutches of other interns on sick leave several times a week.
Last month, she posted a video on social media site Reddit that shows her putting the awkward crutch flute on her shoulder as she performs a series of compositions.
But the flute crutch wasn’t just for fun. This kept her head and hands in shape for an important first audition during advanced individual training at the Army Music School.
“I’m just a really competitive person,” said the 23-year-old, now part of the Virginia National Guard 29th Infantry Division squad in Troutville, in a recent telephone interview.
The senior producer of US Army group “Pershing’s Own”, who was the director of the Tang High School Jazz Ensemble, saw his video on a messaging app used by his military group.
“Hey, this is my student Jessica”, Sgt. Major Scott Weinhold remembers saying this when he saw the 55 second video. The group plans to feature her on their Instagram.
Weinhold led the McLean High School jazz group in Virginia for about 16 years. He often throws “curved balls” at students, like changing the way a piece is performed, to stimulate adaptability and creativity.
Tang, who writes novels and makes Chinese paper-cut artwork, is very creative, he said. Weinhold also discusses with the students the challenges he faced while auditioning for Pershing’s Own – it took him two tries to get there.
Weinhold “was an absolute titan in my world,” Tang said, attributing her influence and playing alongside her army mates during high school as “huge inspiration” for her to become a military musician. She had initially considered him as a “chimera”.
It wasn’t until her fourth year of college last year that she embarked on the adventure and completed basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Then life turned her upside down.
Days before graduating in March 2019, she fell from the obstacle of the Berlin Wall in a “freak accident” that left her with a broken leg.
“Don’t Chapter Me,” she recalls telling her drill sergeants just after falling from the wall, soldiers peel off with a rope. Then she told them she could feel her bones rubbing against each other.
After surgery and convalescence at home, she returned to survivor status for more than a month while waiting to go to the physical training unit, where soldiers are rehabilitating or awaiting medical leave.
Because she remained under a discipline similar to that of basic training, her initial requests for her clarinet were denied. She was afraid of rusting and bombarding her hearing.
“You have to stay on top of your game,” said Weinhold, a competitive triathlete who teaches students the importance of visualization in training for music and sports.
“There are ways to practice your musicianship without playing your instrument,” he said, but for many musicians playing “becomes almost an obsession”.
Musicians in basic training are generally told that they will be separated from their instruments for a few months. Tang, who initially couldn’t do anything without crutches – not even a shower – spent a year in the training and rehabilitation pipeline.
She had kept the makeshift instruments a secret for some time, but one day a drill sergeant followed the accents of “The Army Song” down a hallway to a room where Tang was practicing.
After a brief interruption, “he looks at me and says, ‘Go on, private,'” she said.
She eventually got her clarinet while in rehab, but believes the modified crutches gave her an edge when she got to music school, where she finished among the top in her class in March.
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