She makes music on a multitude of instruments

August 05, 2005|by HEATHER KEELS


"What instrument do you play?" is not a simple question for 19-year-old Ashleah Younker.

"Well ..." she begins, ticking them off on her fingers as she searches her mind, and soon she's out of fingers and it starts to look like "what don't you play?" might have been an easier question to answer.

On Sunday evenings in the summer, when Younker takes her seat at the City Park band shell to play in the Hagerstown Municipal Band, she is holding a clarinet, an instrument she has played since second grade and one she says always is in great demand in the community band.

When she returns to the University of Maryland, College Park, where she will be a junior in the fall, she will play the mellophone, the "marching French horn," at football games with the Mighty Sound of Maryland marching band.


At South Hagerstown High School, she played clarinet in the concert band, but switched between clarinet, marching bass drum and xylophone for the high school marching band before graduating in 2003.

Then, of course, there's piano. She said she began piano lessons "as soon as I could touch the keys and reach the pedals," and her voice as a singer, plus numerous instruments she's borrowed and tried to learn over the years: a trumpet from a cousin, an oboe and a flute from school, a saxophone from her brother, a guitar.

"When I was in high school, my senior year I decided that I wanted to learn to play pretty much every instrument," Younker said.

Her musical instruction began at the insistence of her mother, who also plays clarinet.

"She was like, 'Here's a clarinet, you're going to learn how to play this,'" Younker recalled. "It wasn't 'do you want to play it,' it was 'here's a clarinet.' But I picked it up and I enjoy it."

Younker has become involved in the Washington County Alliance for Instrumental Music, a group that advocates for band and orchestra classes in elementary schools, in the hope that other children will get the same musical foundation that she had.

She also is working nearly full time for an inventory company.

Music practice has consumed countless hours for Younker over the years - at least three hours per day in college - but the dedication is paying off, she said.

This is her third summer playing in the Municipal Band, which plays new music every week. Often there only are enough copies for each member to take the music home for a few days. Younker said she picks the material up quickly.

"I'm a pretty good sight reader and I will practice a tad bit, like I'll come to (Municipal Band concerts) a little early and play for about 15 minutes, but it doesn't take too much anymore because I've been playing for so long," Younker said.

Between band and classes, the English major also finds time during the school year for twice-weekly practices for the SM Theater Company, a shadow-casting group that acts out classic movies in front of the screen. Younker has played Magenta in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," Buttercup in "The Princess Bride" and Mrs. Peacock in "Clue." In the fall, she will be the group's producer.

"I really like being on stage and the feeling that everyone's out there to see you perform," Younker said. "It boosts you up ... especially when they cheer."

Sipping tea in the room above a coffee shop, the talkative teenager with magenta-dyed hair and an "I (heart) Nerds" T-shirt could only think of one word to describe herself: "Weird."

"I don't think there's any other real word to describe me," she said. "I'm just an oddball. I'm into so many different things."

Knitting, for instance (she's been proudly wearing one knit sock around the house; the other's in progress), burial customs (she attended a lecture at the Hager House with friends a few weeks ago) and murder mysteries (a guilty pleasure between literature assignments).

Younker, who described herself as an avid bookworm, said she plans to teach English for a living and added she writes poetry, stories and song lyrics for fun.

Her life's philosophy can be summed up by her senior quote, the Green Day lyrics, "It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right. I hope you had the time of your life."

"I just let life come at me," she said. "I go with the flow."

Through it all, she said, music will keep her busy and grounded, no matter what form her instrument takes.

"I just plan on playing as long as I can, whether in Municipal (band) if I'm somewhere near here or in something similar in another city or state," she said.

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