Archive for December, 2012

There We Went a Caroling

Christmas InstrumentsToday for the first time I got to take a field trip with a combined group of both band and choir students.  So it was fun and funny to see their personality differences.  Kids who join Band generally don’t want to sing; kids who join Choir can’t hold it in.  No matter how short the trip on the bus (we made three stops), the choir members always had a song to sing and a reason to sing it.  Over the course of the trip we were treated to an encore of their Christmas concert one song at a time.  I commented to our choir director that singers take their instruments with them everywhere they go and use them at will, while people would think it odd if one of my Band kids were to bust out his tuba and herald us with a hip rendition of Jingle Bells.

On October 4 I reported here that my students had begun rehearsing after school for a caroling field trip to the local nursing homes.  19 BandLand citizens and 17 Choir students loaded up a school bus this morning and drove across the street to the Autumnwood assisted living center where we performed 25 minutes worth of Christmas music for the residents.  We then went a half block down the street to Miller’s Merry Manor and repeated our performance.  When finished, we drove a mile to the other side of town and had lunch at Pizza Shack.

The only glitch of the day came in the middle of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen when I looked over to see why Keagan wasn’t playing.  He looked rather pale, so I silently mouthed, “Are you alright?”  He shook his head no, so I helped him to a seat while the students kept right on playing.  Keagan later told me that all he had eaten for breakfast was a half a doughnut.  No wonder he needed a rest.

It was fun to watch the students as we entered each location.  Someone always knew someone there, such as the facility administrator, a resident, or a waitress.  One elderly lady came over to me at Autumnwood to say hello.  She reminded me that her granddaughter Christina was a flute player in BandLand 10 years ago.  And she wanted to say thanks for the good music.

One of my 8th graders, Brittney, got to play her clarinet for her grandfather who has lived at Miller’s for 4 1/2 years now.  Brittney’s grandmother (who was also there, though not as a resident) told me that 6 years ago her husband underwent operations for multiple brain tumors.  He had not been expected to live, but by the grace of God he was there today to hear his eldest granddaughter perform.

My goals today included providing my students with an extra opportunity to play their instruments, to get the Band some positive exposure in the community, and to teach the kids to give a little back.   Because of all the family connections in our small Hoosier town, relatively little things like playing Christmas carols can go a long way.

The students’ goals were mostly to get out of class and eat pizza.  It may be that everyone got what they wanted.

An Eventful Week

Music WreathTuesday this week my Concert Band students had an after-school rehearsal to prepare for Wednesday’s Christmas Concert.  Then, since I had to stay in town to help with the high school band during a basketball game, I went over to Jim Dandy’s restaurant for a bite to eat.  The dining room was packed with older people, though I didn’t know why.  Thankfully, a booth was open, so I had a seat, ordered my food, and read my book.  When I went to check out, my $7.89 meal rang up as only $5.13.

“There must be some mistake,” I told the cashier, “I’m sure my meal was more than that.”

“Nope,” she said, showing me the ticket.  And there, much to my shock, I read, “Senior Citizen Discount… -$2.76.”

“What!?!  That’s not right… in so many ways.  I still have ten years to go for that.  Please feel free to charge me the regular amount,” I begged.  “It’s not like I’m on a fixed income, yet.”

She just laughed and said that would be the price.  So I paid the $5.13, and added a 40% tip just to show I could afford it.  Besides, I didn’t want the waitress to be penalized simply for feeling sorry for me.

~~~~~

“So what did you think of your performance?” I asked my 6th graders during first period this morning.  The Backpack Schools presented their Christmas Band Concert last night, and everything seemed to go well.  With few exceptions the students played and behaved as I had hoped they would.  Of course, there were the usual hiccups, like when three different drummers couldn’t remember where they had set their music.  But they found it, and the show went on.

“I was nervous because my mom sat right there in the front row,” said one student.

Another student said, “I got really hungry in the middle of the concert.”

“Didn’t you eat beforehand?” I asked.

“No, but my mom had gotten me a Big Mac to eat in the car after the concert.”

“What do you mean?  The Big Mac sat in the car for 90 minutes before you ate it?”

“Yes, but it was delicious!” she said.

“Anyone else?” I asked.

“It was the most memorable thing I have ever done,” said a 6th grader named Alex.  I studied his face to see if he was being funny, but he was absolutely serious.

“I’m glad,” I said.

~~~~~

Today I received notes from several staff members and parents asking me to tell the students how enjoyable the concert had been, which I did.  And, in keeping with our tradition, rather than having a rehearsal, I took time with each class to review and learn from the experience.

When the comments had all been shared, we had some fun playing my own version of 20 questions that pits the boys against the girls.  The kids had a great time, and the game turned into quite a competition.  At one point, a girl gave a wrong answer which cost her team a point.  But her teammates were encouraging to her and didn’t make her feel bad about it.

“After years of playing this game with classes,” I said to the students, “I’ve noticed that when a girl makes a mistake the other girls are sympathetic and understanding.  But when a boy makes a mistake, the other boys do a verbal pile-on, basically saying, ‘KILL HIM!'”

Just as I said these last couple words, the BandLand door opened and our school superintendent entered the room.  I could have died.

“I just wanted to stop by and tell you all how much I enjoyed the concert,” he said with a smile.

“Oh.  Thank you.  And I’ll be sure to pass that along to my other classes today,” I replied.

~~~~~

When class ended I went to my computer and learned that Jon, one of my 8th grade trombone players, had been selected for this year’s Jr. All-State Band.  His audition earned him 3rd chair out of 12 trombone players.  Now this was a big deal, so I sent out an email to the entire school system explaining that Jon is the first student from our school to ever make it into the Jr. All-State Band.  Before long I had received notes from people like the assistant superintendent and a bus driver asking me to pass along their congratulations.  Another note came from the superintendent inviting Jon to attend the next school board meeting so the board members can acknowledge his accomplishment.

When I shared all of this with Jon he just beamed.  “All the hard work is paying off, isn’t it?” I asked him.

“Yes, it is.” he answered.

“Well, keep it up.  You should be proud of yourself.”

One other person who should be proud of herself is my daughter Angela (warning:  fatherly bragging to follow).  We found out this morning that she also made the All-State Band.  In fact, this is the third year in a row for her, and the second year in a row that she will be the first chair oboe player.  Much credit for this accomplishment goes to the two oboe teachers she has had:  her first teacher, Mr. Steve Dingledine of Muncie, IN, and her current teacher, Mrs. Pam French of Carmel, IN.

Angela was so excited that she screamed when I called her on the phone to tell her.  Of course, being a home school student, she won’t get any invitations to appear before the school board, but it is just as big a deal.  Perhaps we will have to take her and the family out for a celebration dinner.

~~~~~

Last spring I posted a blog entitled, “A Band Director’s Prayer for His Students (March 26, 2012).”  Over the last several months it has come to be the most viewed entry on Hall Pass, for which I am gratified.  I had no idea this would happen; I assumed one of the more humorous postings would take that honor.

This week I learned that the student webmaster for the Cathedral High School band program in Indianapolis reposted it on behalf of her band director Kathy McCullough as their Prayer for the Month of December (http://www.gocathedral.com/page.cfm?p=2674).

One of the last lines of the prayer says, “I pray my students will learn they are capable of doing much more than they ever thought possible.”  I think it is possible that God has answered this prayer at least in part this week.

Reading Time

“Good book, Mark?” I asked.  Each morning all Backpack Middle School students spend 20 minutes silently reading something of their choice like a book, magazine, newspaper, or increasingly, something electronic.  Since my first period class is Cadet Band, I have 6th graders in BandLand during reading time.

In answer to my question, Mark nodded and showed me the cover of his book:  Old Tractors, and the Men Who Love Them.

“Good choice,” I said, “Carry on.”  Mark’s reading choices are always, shall we say, practical, like a catalog of firearms, or the mechanical specs of farm machinery.

Most students choose to read fiction.  Books like the Warriors series by Erin Hunter and the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer seem especially popular.  A few years ago, there was a waiting list in the library for any book in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, but interest has faded a bit.  Other favorites include Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney, anything with Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson (never goes out of style), and, occasionally, the Bible.

LionWardrobeSometimes a student will forget a book for reading time, which gives me the opportunity to suggest one of the classics I enjoyed as a kid, like The Call of the Wild, by Jack London.  One day not long ago, a student named Jacob asked me for a recommendation, so I offered him my copy of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis.  He looked a little skeptical, so I said,

“Usually, when students forget their books I have them write sentences.”

“What’s the sentence,” Jacob asked, not thinking too clearly.

“You would have to write 40 times, ‘Reading a book would be better than wasting time writing these sentences.’

“I think I’ll read the book,” he decided.

“Good choice,” I said, as he returned to his seat, began reading, and was quickly hooked; now he is half way through Prince Caspian.