Kurt Vonnegut’s story “Ambitious Sophomore” from his collection Bagombo Snuff Box tells the story of George M. Helmholtz, a high school band leader who goes out of his way and outside of his school’s budget to boost the self-esteem of his male piccolo player.
Perhaps a male piccolo player that needs a self-esteem boost could be considered social commentary and satire – the kind that readers tend to expect from Vonnegut – but I would tend to call this story simply fun, funny, and pleasant. Written in the 1950’s, this story seems more innocent than other of Vonnegut’s works.
The title of the story makes me wonder, though. The sophomore in question doesn’t seem that ambitious unless one would count hitting on girls as ambitious. I would think the ambitious one in the story would be Helmholtz, himself. His desire to have the best competing high school band is truly the basis for the humor and plot of the story. The opening sentence might be a favorite of mine:
George M. Helmholtz, head of the music department and director of the band of Lincoln High School, was a good, fat man who saw no evil, heard no evil, and spoke no evil, for wherever he went, the roar and boom and blast of a marching band, real or imagined, filled his soul.