Posts Tagged ‘Band Director’

Having a Bad Day

Derek was having a bad day.  He was barely responding to my questions, and not following directions.  When I asked him to make a change to the crash cymbal part he was playing, he moved very slowly to the back of the room to get his music.  This, of course, irritated me because he was holding up the entire class and bringing our rehearsal to a grinding halt.

“Can you move more quickly, Derek?” I asked.  “Why don’t you have your music at your music stand?”

“I’m sharing with Trenton,” he said.

“But,” I explained for what seemed like the hundredth time, “I’ve told you before to always have your own music out so you can make notes in it when needed.  This kind of delay is costing you participation points,” I told him, feeling my frustration mounting.

“I don’t even want to be in Band!” he snapped.

“Why don’t you wait in the hallway?  We have one too many drummers, anyway,” I popped off, instantly regretting it.

This wasn’t the first time in 20 years of teaching that I have spoken carelessly.  And, sadly, it probably won’t be the last.  But I have always had the policy that if I mess up like this in front of the Band, I will apologize in front of the Band.  So…

“I’m sorry, Derek.  That was inappropriate, and I shouldn’t have said it.  Now, will you please wait for me in the hallway?”  Derek headed for the door.

Turning to my student teacher, I asked, “Mr. Z., will you please lead rehearsal for a few minutes?”  He came right to the podium and took over while I, too, headed for the door.

Once in the hallway, I asked in a quiet voice, “What’s going on today, Derek?  I know you occasionally have an off day, but you aren’t usually like this.  I don’t believe you want to quit Band after three years.  Is there something you want to talk about?”

Derek’s attitude changed completely.  Instead of being difficult or defiant, he was respectful.

“Me and my sister gotta go to CPS today to talk about our mom,” he said.  I had to think for a moment, but I realized CPS means Child Protective Services.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“My mom’s been doin’ drugs, and now CPS wants to ask us about it ‘cause she’s been doin’ drugs in front of us.”

It’s still hard for me to believe there are kids – a lot of them – who have to grow up in these kinds of situations.

“Well,” I offered, “there probably isn’t much I can do, but if there is, please let me know, even if you just want to come by and talk.”

Derek nodded.

“In the meantime,” I continued, “you can stay out here in the hallway if you want to.  I would understand.  But I’ll bet you would rather rejoin the rehearsal.  Let’s get your mind on learning this music and doing your best.  It will help you get this other stuff out of your head for a little bit.”

He nodded again.

“And, Derek, I really am sorry for my comment.”

“It’s o.k.,” he told me.  “I’m sorry for what I said, too.”

“No problem.  Let’s go back to class.”


The Pork Festival

This is my 13th year teaching in the Backpack school system, so today I will march with the Backpack High School Band in my 26th Pork Festival parade.  We kicked off this annual festival two days ago with a small Thursday evening parade, and today at 2:00 the band will take part in the Pork Festival Grand Parade.


For a small Hoosier town this is a big deal.  The fire trucks always lead the way with sirens blaring.  Floats with beauty queens, cheerleaders, sports teams, church groups and politicians – including this year’s candidates for governor – will be interspersed with a half dozen high school marching bands.  Shriners on tricycle motorbikes will thrill the large crowds with daring maneuvers, and the local library staff pushing their decorated book carts will weave back and forth in a choreographed routine that is just as entertaining, and almost as thrilling.

In Indiana you can spend almost every weekend from late August to November at a small town festival.  For instance, there is the Elwood Glass Festival, the Atlanta New Earth Festival, and the Fairmount James Dean Festival (the town where “cool” was born, and Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis, too).  You can visit Frankton for Heritage Days, and Alexandria, whose celebration is actually called the Smalltown Festival.  Or you can go to Martinsville to watch the Fall Foliage Parade, and even New Castle for a Christmas parade in November.  But the Pork Festival boasts the most visitors and biggest parade of them all.

While I expect the crowds to be a little smaller today due to the cool, windy weather and cloudy skies, there will still be several thousand people lining the parade route.  I always enjoy walking alongside the band students and waving to familiar faces in the crowd.  Of course, I didn’t recognize anyone my first year, but today I will see a number of current and former students, parents and friends.  And when the band plays the Backpack school song, I can always tell the natives from the visitors because the outsiders don’t know the traditional clapping pattern that goes along with the song.

Last year’s parade took place in hot, muggy conditions.  As you might expect, some of the band members were pretty worn out by the end.  Thankfully, Pizza Shack, which is at the end of the route, always serves up cups of ice water and soda in their parking lot for the band kids from all the various schools.  Even so, one of our saxophone players, I’ll call her Sandy, felt overcome with the heat.  Personally, I was a bit skeptical since she had a history of feeling overcome by the heat after almost every activity, but there she was, lying on the ground complaining that she felt faint.

So, after conferring with our high school band director Mr. Fletcher, I pulled out my cell phone and called 911.

“9-1-1.  State the nature of your emergency.”  At this, I briefly explained the situation, and asked for an EMT to come assess Sandy’s condition.

“What is your location?” the operator asked.

“Well, I don’t know the exact address,” I began, wondering what I was going to tell this anonymous operator who could be in a far off city for all I knew.  “But, I’m in the Pizza Shack parking lot, which is…”

“Very good.  I will dispatch a unit immediately,” she interrupted.

“Oh – Thank you,” I answered.  “That was easy.”

A moment later, I heard a clanging alarm from nearby.  Looking across the street I saw three medics run out of the firehouse, jump in an ambulance, turn on their siren, and come directly across the street right to where Sandy and I were.

“I love small towns,” I said out loud to myself.

While the EMTs examined Sandy, Mr. Fletcher led the rest of the band back toward the high school, with a stop at the town park on the way.  While there, the band played several pep tunes to entertain the crowd at the car show. Meanwhile, the medics took Sandy to the emergency room, which is across the street from the high school.  I caught up with the band at the park just as they were finishing and walked back to the band room with them.  Arriving at almost the same time, Sandy came in to pack up her instrument and put away her uniform.  She was obviously feeling much better.  Whether her recovery was due to some medicine or to the attention she had received, I couldn’t say, but thankfully, it had been nothing serious after all.

Got to go.  The parade is going to start in just a couple hours.

Country Kids

Several months ago I was standing at the BandLand door on a Monday morning greeting students as they arrived to drop off instruments in the band room before school.  Trying to make conversation, I asked questions like, “How are you?” and “Did you have a good weekend.”

As one 6th grade farm boy entered, I happened to ask, “So, what did you do this weekend.”

He stopped and thought for just a second before answering, “I helped neuter the pigs.”

Caught off guard by this, I just replied, “Good for you!”

But his answer got me thinking about some of my other country kids:  students who are growing up on farms with chores and responsibilities.  One such young man seemed a bit groggy one morning.  When I asked why, he told me that it was birthing season for his sheep and he had been up much of the night.  But he was at school on time and he wasn’t complaining.

The other day my wife and I were walking around the 4-H fairgrounds when I observed a boy who couldn’t have been much older than 13 or 14 grading the horse arena with a John Deere tractor that was two or three times the size of my car.  He was handling it like a seasoned veteran; there was absolutely no hint of carelessness or thoughtlessness.  He took his time and paid attention, and when he was done the arena was ready for a horse riding competition.

I have also had many young ladies involved in the county and state 4-H festivals showing horses, cattle, and goats.  I remember Emily who, at the age of 14 or 15, was entering her sewing project into the annual competition.  After several years of study and practice with her mom, she had completed a beautiful and complicated dress that met all of the requirements for the highest level of difficulty.

I don’t remember if she won the show, but I can tell you she was one of many who gained much more than a ribbon for her efforts.  She and these other young people have been some of my best, most reliable, most responsible, most respectful students.  They have gained skills and character traits that will serve them well in any endeavor.  Emily, for instance, has nearly completed her studies at one of Indiana’s top schools of pharmacology.  And she is just the kind of person you would want to dispense your medicines.

99 Degrees

At dinner not long ago, one of my daughters asked me, “Did anything funny happen at school today?”  I guess I’ve told enough stories about my students that she has come to expect them.

So for her, here is a little collection of some recent favorites.


While doing hallway duty I saw Brendyn walking by wearing a Nike t-shirt that said, “These Guns Are Loaded.”  We have a few students in the middle school who could wear this shirt without embarrassment.  But I had to admire Brendyn, with his scrawny arms, for wearing it.  He wasn’t lacking in self confidence.

I couldn’t resist stopping him to ask, “Hey, Brendyn, can I see your guns?”

“Uh, not right now…” he replied with a little grin as he hurried away.


My third period class was working its way through a new piece of music recently when we got to a particularly tricky part.

“O.k., class,” I said.  “Here we go.  Let’s tackle this tough passage.”

Without any hesitation, a trombone players got down on one knee and said, “It’s Tebow time.”


In a 6th grade Cadet Band rehearsal, Jake was getting impatient with the slow speed we were taking to practice a fast piece.

“Are we ever going to take this piece faster?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, “but we have to walk before we can run.”

To which another student offered, “Forrest Gump can run.”


While recounting my trip to see the U.S. Navy Band the night before, I also told my students about an especially tall man I had seen at the concert.

Me:  “I saw the U.S. Navy Band in concert last night.  Afterwards, in the lobby, I saw a man who is at least 7′ 6″ tall.”

Class:  “Wow…”

Me:  “He also had his teenage son with him; he looked like he is maybe 14 or 15, but he is already almost 6′ 6″  tall.”

Class:  “Wow…”

Me:  “Can you imagine being so tall by that age, but knowing that you could still grow another foot?  I mean, think about it – he could end up with three feet.”


Philip was being especially squirrelly one day.

“Philip, you need to settle down,”  I told him.

“But I’m not ready to start a family…” he objected.


On a recruiting visit to a 5th grade class I asked the students to tell me some of the reasons they might choose not to join the band.

A girl raised her hand and said, “My dad told me that all the nerds are in Band.”

When the laughter had died down, I replied, “That’s not true.  I know a lot of nerds who aren’t in Band.”


A couple years ago I was working in the BandLand worldwide headquarters (my office) when Chris walked in with a big smile on his face and announced,

“Guess what, Mr. Shaver… It’s 99 degrees in my pocket!”

I really didn’t know what to say.

“Yep,” he explained, “I’ve been carrying this temperature gauge in my pocket all day, and no matter if I’m running or sitting, it has stayed at 99 degrees in my pocket.”

Melissa Wuz Here

During rehearsal one recent day at Backpack Middle School I had stepped off my podium to check fingerings in the clarinet section when I noticed some writing on the back of Melissa’s hand.

Melissa is a seventh grader with a sweet spirit and a serious case of diabetes.  It is not uncommon to see her pull out her testing kit, stick her finger, and check her blood sugar level.  She does this so often that the students around don’t seem to notice.

Anyway, written on the back of her hand were the words, “Melissa wuz here,” with an arrow pointing up her arm to her self.  I laughed when I read it – it seemed funny and clever on several levels.


The past several days have been busier than usual as the new 5th grade band students have been getting their first lessons after school.  There are 36 new citizens of BandLand this Spring.  My first impressions of them as a group are good.  There is nothing in the world like the enthusiasm you see as they open their instruments for the first time and learn how to put them together.  And nothing can match those first sounds coming out of their horns – Good Golly!

When I had finished 8th period General Music today, I went back to the band room only to find that our substitute custodian had locked the BandLand door before the end of the day.  So a bunch of new 5th graders were waiting out in the hallway along with some middle schoolers who needed to take their instruments home.  Unlocking the door, I saw that the custodian had also erased my chalk boards.  No big deal, right?  Just write it all again.

First thing in the room, two young ladies meet me and say, “We’re the new clarinet players, but we don’t have instruments, yet.  Didn’t you tell our parents you could loan us instruments?”

“Yes, but they were supposed to let me know for sure that you would be needing them, which they didn’t do, so I don’t have them out, yet,” I replied.  “But no problem.  We’ll just get them now.  Let’s see, here they are.  Let me write down the serial numbers.  Oh, yeah, I will also need to loan each of you a reed, and a swab, and cork grease.  Here you go.  Last ones I have, but that’s o.k., I’ll order more.  Oh, you don’t have music books, yet?  O.k., let me get a couple from the cabinet.  There.  All set.  Go have a seat.  Thanks.  Anyone else need anything?  A french horn book, and a baritone book?  Here is a horn book.  I’m out of baritone books.  Sorry, but no problem.  You can use this trombone book for now.  I’ll tell you the fingerings as we go.  Now let’s get everyone arranged.  Clarinets, please sit over here in the front row; saxophones over there, with the tenors behind them in the second row.  Then, let’s have the french horn, trombones, and baritones next to the tenors, with the snare drum on the end.  Don’t be bashful; you can go ahead and move.  No, clarinets over here, saxes over there…”  And so it went…

As you can imagine, it can all be a bit overwhelming.  About this time, as I had my head buried in a pile of details, I heard a voice beside me:

“Mr. Shaver?”  It was Melissa, my seventh grader, picking up her clarinet before heading home.  “I can’t leave without a hug,” she said.

I put my arm around her shoulder and gave her a quick hug, all the time thinking that teachers aren’t supposed to do that anymore.  “I’ll take one of those anytime, Melissa.  Have a good night.”

Then I got right back to work.  I really didn’t think much about it at the time.  But later on, while driving home feeling tired and frazzled, I remembered her hug and smiled, and thought how glad I am that Melissa wuz here.

My Mysterious Malfunctioning Podium

My podium malfunctioned again today.  You know the box a conductor stands on to direct the band?  Mine stopped working, which means I was unable to speak.  If this sounds odd, remember… no, never mind.  But let me explain.

Normally, my podium does just what you would expect it to do:  it gives me about six extra inches so the students in the back row can see me better, and more importantly, so I can see what they are up to.

But occasionally it malfunctions and interferes with my ability to speak, which of course complicates our rehearsal a great deal.

For instance, today we were in the middle of a rather ho-hum rehearsal – students not really watching or listening to me – when suddenly, I lost my voice.  I had just stopped the Band to offer a bit of brilliant musical advice, but nothing came out.

Needless to say, the students were baffled.  I stepped off the podium, got my voice back, and explained,

“This is not the first time I’ve had this problem.  Occasionally, one of the wires in my podium shorts out, causing some sort of interference with my voice that renders me temporarily mute.”

“Your box is wired?” asked a skeptical drummer.

“Yes.  How else would it work?  Now please listen.  A podium technician inspected it, but he was unable to track down the offending wire.  He did note, however, that the malfunction seems to occur most often during rehearsals in which students are not watching or listening to me.

“You mean,” asked a trumpeter a little too eagerly, “when you step back up on the podium you won’t be able to tell us what to do?”

“Uh… while I will still be able to see you,” I replied cautiously, “it’s true – I won’t be able to speak to you.  So I will have to use hand gestures and perhaps whisper a little.  If things get really bad, I will step off the podium to get my voice back.  But one thing is for certain, we are not stopping our rehearsal for this.  We will just have to figure out a way to communicate without words.  So pay attention.”

With that, I stepped up on the podium and used my fingers to signal for the band to begin at measure 9.  A student in the front row whispered, “Measure 9,” to the person behind her, who then passed it on, as if the people in back could not see me.  Then I raised my baton and began.

Very soon we came to a place in the music where I wanted to add a crescendo (to get gradually louder).  I directed one, but nothing happened, so I gave a cutoff to stop the band.  However, quite a few students played on for several measures because they hadn’t been watching, which, of course, was the problem to begin with.  Jumping up and down and waving my arms, I finally got their attention, and I heard another student say, “He stopped us.  You guys need to watch.”  Pointing to that student, I made a show of awarding him with a bonus point.

Now for the hard part.  I needed to get the class to understand about the crescendo.  Imagine a game of charades.  Using my fingers, I got someone to say, “Measure 26.”  Then responding to my various gestures, students asked questions like,

“We’re supposed to get taller?  Should we stand up?”

I rolled my eyes and motioned for him to sit back down.

“Are we supposed to get fatter?”

I scowled at the boy.

“Do you want us to get louder?”

Another bonus point was awarded.

So this student whispered to her neighbor, “He wants up to get louder at measure 26.”  Then two or three other students whispered it to their neighbors, and so on until the message had traveled around the room.  The funny part of all this was how the students, without my saying so, assumed that my inability to speak meant they had to whisper everything.  It turned out to be an exceptionally quiet rehearsal.

It was also one of our most productive rehearsals.  The class had to pay close attention to everything I did, which meant they were watching me more than usual.  They also had to do a lot of thinking as they deciphered my clues.  And it was great to see them working together.

At the end of the rehearsal, they seemed drained, as though the effort of learning had taken every last ounce they had to offer.  But on her way out of class, one of my clarinet players asked,

“Can we do that again tomorrow?”

I smiled and said, “Who knows?  I really can’t control when my podium malfunctions.  Besides, I’m hoping it will be fixed by then.”

A Band Director’s Prayer For His Students

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the opportunity to teach today.

Please help my students learn more than just music; help them learn how to think and concentrate and do their best.

Help them learn the value of hard work, self-discipline, respect for self, respect for others, and respect for authority.

May they learn to be organized and responsible, and to take responsibility for their actions.

Help them learn to set goals and then do what is needed to achieve those goals.  Along the way I pray they will learn how to work together, and to be considerate, encouraging, patient, and kind.

And when they achieve their goals I pray they will know the joy of learning and the pride that comes from a job well done.

In all of this I pray my students will learn they are capable of doing much more than they ever thought possible.

And most of all, Lord, I pray that you will show them how immeasurably valuable each of them is to you.

In Jesus’ name,