An elementary school band concert is often a chance for parents to understand just how much their parents suffered for them. It’s a shame that we discover this so much later, but that’s the way life is; sometimes you get paid ahead, sometimes you get paid back.
In my case, my daughter has been playing flute for just 9 months, but she is already very good. And so are the other kids, it turns out. Their band director seems to be very demanding, and the young musicians have responded well to it. All I had to do was sit back and enjoy the warm glow of being a proud father.
The rich sound of kids trying hard circled around my ears only a few times before I was pulled back to the time I was on the stage. Many years ago my tenor sax and I were in the same place, pushing out music with more earnestness than air. It was a hobby, a pastime, but I loved it like nothing else. Call me a “band geek”, I wouldn’t care. I could wear that label with pride.
It wasn’t until I was a senior and section leader that I learned what it was all about. Sitting at the table with Mr. Fetterman for dinner on a trip to Ireland was just one of the perks that came with age. Alan Fetterman was someone we feared as a band director, but we knew that if we rose to the challenges we would have a great experience. We wanted to impress him. It was rare to have casual time with him, but quite an honor.
One night he told us all something as plain as anyone could. “I know that none of you kids will be professional musicians. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about learning discipline and the joy of doing something very well.”
I have to admit that I took that comment badly at first. To me, it was about the music. Yet as I have grown older and wiser, every time I feel punky I think back to the time our marching band did “Pictures at an Exhibition” with an amazing formation of changing swirls and circles. It was a work of art worthy of Mussorgsky. Though we didn’t realize it at the time, however, we weren’t doing it for the audience in the stadium. We did it for ourselves.
I know my parents didn’t have to suffer too much for my love of band. I did my best. And to hear and feel my daughter doing her best in return helps me to understand that the gift has been passed on. It’s all for her, even if she doesn’t know it yet. But she will, and that’s good enough.