2017-05-24 / Editorials

Mike Reese

“I was just thinking”


I was privileged to attend a mini-concert at the high school gym recently. The performers were sixth and seventh graders of our local middle school band. What I saw there was impressive, as well as entertaining.

It’s difficult to remember being a sixth or seventh grader, but I can say with confidence that my eleven or twelve year old brain wouldn’t have belonged on that stage, in that band. The word disciplined came to my mind, too, a word rarely used in the same sentence with sixth and seventh graders. What was going on? Were they clones, robots?

The next twenty minutes provided me with my answer. This collection of students was not comprised of robots. They were being expertly led by a special man, and they were expertly following. I saw no wandering eyes, no ADHD. I saw skill, pride, and confidence being born. But mostly I saw teaching, teaching that wasn’t learned at a university. This man, this teacher, already possessed his gift at birth. His formal title, I suppose, is Band Director. The job title he should have wouldn’t fit this column, too many adjectives needed.

When we were seated in the gym, the curtains were pulled. A quiet note here and there from a flute, a saxophone, a trumpet. A man’s voice speaking calmly, children’s voices responding calmly. I’d have guessed there were a dozen or so behind the curtain. Turns out there were at least twice that.

The Band Director stepped forward, curtains still closed, and announced to our small group of fifth graders, teachers, and principals what we were about to hear and see. What followed, I’ve seldom seen from eleven and twelve year olds, completely following directions, without exception. The music was good, their behavior and attention better. Following several songs, the Director asked for any members, who volunteered, to give short testimonials describing their band experience. A couple of members stepped up quickly, followed by two or three more. I’d guess, by the end, a dozen spoke from their hearts, some emotionally. A common thread was how joining the band had changed them. They used words like family, hard work, support, dedication, and failing sometimes, but picking themselves up for another go. One boy, though not using perfect English, said this about his Band Director, “He don’t take nothin’ off nobody.” Pushups were another common word. You get the point. Can we clone this man?

What I saw that morning was inspiring. I saw some, a few, boys and girls, who, were at one time, maybe headed for the drop- out list eventually, or worse. Instead, they’ve found a man who cares about them, but still demands from them total dedication and attention to detail. Some, probably, had never experienced success at anything, but now they see a totally changed person in the mirror every day, who is finally “good at something,” learning lessons they’ll take forward for many years.

Thank you, James McBride. We owe you much more than your salary.

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