Margi Starr Springfield, Ohio, USA
Chapter 13 – The Brain
I was entering 7th grade when the new band director came to town. Harry Blake was hired by the local school board with hopes of turning awkward adolescents into a reasonable sounding school band. A Broadway musical called The Music Man, was all the rage and everyone was humming “Seventy-six Trombones."
Although Harry Blake didn’t have the same charm as Professor Harold Hill, he did have a way of teaching us that was remarkable.
Tall, thin, and fresh out of college, this new teacher with a green personality, stood in front of us. I’m sure he was scared to death, but he didn’t let us know it. It was September. Our band was really bad. As a flute player, I was clueless as to what I was doing. It took most of the band period to get us halfway in tune with one another.
But despite his inexperience and our squeaking clarinets, Mr. Blake had a vision for us.
There was no goofing off. Those that wanted to learn the music stayed, and those who didn’t, dropped out.
Mr. Blake started to pour into us his own musical experience. Practice sessions were run like boot camp. You were expected to practice your music at home. No excuses. There’s the door…
The people who attended our Christmas band concert were quite surprised. In a couple of months, we were cranking out some decent sounding Christmas music.
Regional music contests were held every spring. Right after Christmas, Mr. Blake helped me select a Flute solo that was far beyond my capability. “You can do it.” He taught me how to add the expression that makes music more enjoyable for the performer, as well as the listener.
More students than ever in our school’s history won First places in the individual instrumental competitions. I recently stumbled across my small gold medal, with the red, white and blue ribbon. It’s all faded now, but it still put a smile on my face.
Immediately after individual competitions, we started practicing for the Regional Band Competitions. The practice schedule was rigorous and parents started complaining that Mr. Blake was working us too hard. He moved many of us 7th and 8th graders up to the Senior Band. The upperclassmen looked at us with some disdain at first, but when we started playing “as one,” it was pretty impressive.
We took First place in our Regional contest, and were invited to attend the State competition. Our little “River City” band had NEVER gone to that level before.
Now the hard work began. Nightly practices with a new emphasis on Sight Reading. At the State level, that was a new area judged, and was something we had to learn. Fast.
Practices were grueling, yet exhilarating, as we together learned to look at a piece of never-seen-before band music and play it through the FIRST time as though you were performing it before judges. That’s where our BRAINS began working together with a new kind of synergy. We learned to “read” each other’s minds and tap into one another’s strengths.
Our trip to Indianapolis was pretty awesome. There we were among big schools with prestigious bands from all over the state. We were a small band, but when that First Place in our division was announced, our screams could be heard around the entire state.
This true story has a surprise ending.
Mr. Blake was fired at the end of the year. There were too many complaints from parents who thought we spent too much time practicing. Sigh.
The next year we had a friendlier band director. The parents liked him better, but his band practices were very casual. The parents were disappointed when we brought home a Third Place at band contest that year. No state contest for us; and no contract renewal for Mr. Adams.
I put my flute away and didn’t sign up for the band my freshman year.
My faded gold medal reminds me of what a group can accomplish TOGETHER.
Even when you don’t have the skills at first and even when there are people who don’t believe in you. It doesn’t matter.
Sometimes you may not even understand what you can accomplish, until someone casts a Vision for you.
But when you are truly All In AND you have an outrageous GOAL in front of you… with the right coaching, the impossible becomes POSSIBLE.