All the Sentimental Musings as They Relate to Junior High Band

Oct 29, 2020

Last night, Mike and I went to Aaron's band concert. Per covid restrictions, he was only allowed to have two guests, and, as his parents, we felt that the privilege was rightfully ours.

It was one of those times that will probably remain sharp and crystal clear in my memory with very little effort on my part. Without even quite realizing it, several things had built up in my subconscious over the last few years, and they came to a head during that little band concert. It was one of those glorious, serendipitous moments where everything feels just right, and because of that rightness, you know that it's something that will stay with you forever. It's amazing that a group of 6th-8th graders could have this sort of effect on me, but it's true.

Five years ago, I sat in that same auditorium for a very similar fall concert, but instead of Aaron on the stage, it was my nephew, Steven. It was his first time performing as the pianist for the jazz band, and I wanted to be there for it since I had been his piano teacher for several years. Contrary to my rather low expectations of a junior high band concert, I was pleasantly surprised. They actually sounded really good.

I had left Mike home with the boys, but as I sat there enjoying each song, I suddenly pictured Aaron, who was seven-years-old at the time. I had the distinct thought, In a few years, when Aaron is Steven's age, could he possibly have the necessary skills to play an instrument, create intentional music,  and follow a director? It honestly felt so far beyond our current reality that I couldn't fathom it.

Flash forward to school last year. Aaron was in the sixth grade in the same junior high Steven had attended. When he registered for classes, band was an easy choice. He had learned to play the trombone during his last two years of elementary school, and he had suffered (yes, literally suffered) through the most excruciating and unproductive rehearsals just so he could bypass foundations band in junior high and jump up to the next level.

It was by far his favorite class. He loved the teacher, and for the first time, he was playing music with kids who actually wanted to be there. No more "Row, Row, Row Your Boat;" they were playing real stuff now.

His sixth grade year was short-lived though. It ended just eight days after it began. As I picked him up on that last day, he told me excitedly, "We started the best song in band today! It sounds so cool!" He was well aware that he wasn't going back to school, but he was still so pumped for this song, and I thought my heart would break.

And finally, just a few weeks ago, with Aaron healthy again and school back in session, he came home from school one afternoon and informed me that he was going to try out for jazz band. His practicing had been very sporadic during his recovery, and I was skeptical about his abilities. I didn't discourage him from it, but I stayed on the sidelines and let him take ownership of it.

He ended up making it, and that one extracurricular class has brought him so much joy. He doesn't care that he has to get up at 6:00 and leave when it is still dark and cold, nor does he mind that he has to wear a mask when he plays or put a piece of fabric over the bell of his instrument. It is all worth it.

All of these thoughts and memories were going through my head as Mike and I sat in the darkened auditorium last night, spaced far away from everyone else, and watched him play. He was looking sharp in concert black with his hair slicked back. His shiny brass trombone glinted beneath the stage lights. In unison with the other performers he slipped his mouthpiece underneath the flap in his mask. His eyes were fixed on his teacher who tapped out a measure before the opening notes sounded. His black dress shoe kept the beat, and his slide moved in synchronization with the other trombonists. It was like watching a dance, their instruments moving in time with the notes.

My eyes filled with tears. I couldn't help it. Unbidden, I remembered my disbelief from five years before and stared wonderingly at the reality before me. There he was--mature, self-assured, completely in his element, doing exactly what he wanted to do last year but couldn't. 

Mike is generally not overly sentimental. I am enough of that for both of us, as the above musings will confirm. But as the jazz band finished their final piece last night, and the sparse audience enthusiastically applauded, he leaned over to me and said, "That was the best concert I've ever been to!" I turned to him in surprise. I mean, it was good, but we've been to our fair share of concerts with world-class musicians, and this was still, after all, just junior high. 

He amended, "I've never enjoyed a concert more than that one."

And suddenly, it was clear to me. He had fallen under the same spell I had, that of being a witness to Aaron fulfilling his own purpose, completely independent of our interests or passions. And absolutely beaming while doing it.

For once, our sentimentalities were in perfect alignment, and I couldn't have agreed more. 

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