October 24, 2007
The summer before he began eleventh grade, Boy in Black showed me his class schedule. He'd signed up for the usual academic classes, but what startled me was that he had registered for Band.
"You signed up for Band?" I asked. "But uh ... you don't play a band instrument." He did play piano, but as far as I knew, there was no piano in the concert band.
Boy in Black shrugged. "Oh, I'm going to learn to play the drums."
The whole thing seemed odd to me. He was going to join a concert band even though he didn't play any of the instruments? Seriously, what the hell was this kid thinking? What was the band director going to say on the first day when this kid showed up with no instrument?
But as usual, I was wrong, and Boy in Black was right. What the band director said was: "Okay, cool." Boy in Black started taking drum lessons and playing percussion in the concert band. When he started taking guitar lessons, he joined the jazz band. Apparently one week of lessons is all you need to become a member of the band.
When Shaggy Hair Boy started high school, he too jumped into the band, playing percussion even though he had little prior experience. And last year when With-a-Why began sixth grade at the junior high, he told me he wanted to sign up for Band rather than Chorus. Even though I should have seen this coming, I was still bewildered. "Uh .... you play the piano. There isn't a piano in the band."
With-a-Why is a boy of few words. He said simply, "I want to take Band."
So I wrote a note to the junior high band director: "With-a-Why wants to take Band. He doesn't play a band instrument. He plays the piano, though, so he can read music and knows something about music theory."
I could just picture the band teacher reading the note and then looking at the kid in front of him, a painfully shy kid who most likely stood there with his long hair in his face, not saying a single word. I guarantee that With-a-Why just handed the note to the teacher and said nothing at all. And what the band director said was, "No problem. Tell your Mom to buy you some mallets, and you can play the bells."
That's been my experience with school band directors. They will take any kid who wants to join. Knowing how to play an instrument is not a prerequisite. On the stage at a concert the other night, I counted over a hundred kids, all with whatever instrument they happened to choose. When Lisa Simpson made the saxophone popular for girls a few years back, the band director simply welcomed all the new saxophone players. If twenty kids want to play percussion, he shrugs and says, "okay."
When Boy in Black decided he wanted to learn more about music theory, the band director let him do an independent study, making time to give him one-on-one attention. When Boy in Black graduated from high school, he chose to play the guitar and sing a song as his valedictory speech, a Bob Dylan song to which he had written his own lyrics. When administrators gave him a hard time, trying to get him to change the lyrics because they didn't approve of his message, the band director showed up of his own accord to support Boy in Black.
As a teacher, I too know how to be supportive and inclusive, and how to encourage students to follow things they are passionate about. So I guess I am not completely surprised that these music teachers know how to support my kids' love for music. But here's what amazes me: I go to concerts at the high school, I sit in the dark auditorium, and I look up at the huge group of students who have taken over the whole stage, an odd assortment of students from all different backgrounds, who walk in lugging their instruments and music stands. And then, through the dim air of the auditorium, from the borrowed and rented instruments held by these high school kids, comes beautiful music — melodies that tug at memories, rhythms that change my mood. Incredible, lovely, stirring music.
And that's the part that stuns me.
Posted by jo(e)