Monday, April 8, 2013

Monday Memory: I'm with the Band

I went to a middle school where participation in the band was compulsory, not optional. The school was small and all bodies were needed to field a full band, and I pretty much hated it and thought it was the worst thing ever. Because I didn't enjoy band, or being forced to be a part of it, I chose to play the drums, my thinking being that drums would be the easiest instrument to learn and thus require less effort than say a flute or trumpet.

Well, for all aspiring slackers out there, you should know that the drums are actually pretty tough to learn and I doubt any professional (or surly 7th grade) percussionist will say it's easy. It was a lot of work and required just as much outside-the-classroom practice time as any other instrument.
(That's me in the 7th grade beating a tom-tom drum in a local parade. If I look hot, tired, and grumpy, it's because I am hot, tired, and grumpy.)

My poor attitude and utter contempt for compulsory band came to a head a few days before the Christmas concert. The band teacher, Mr. W needed to spend some time working with the woodwinds on a particularly tricky part of a song and instructed the rest of us to sit quietly and study our music so we'd be ready for our parts. I was bored and mad and didn't want to be there, so I quickly organized an impromptu drum line of percussionists in the back and we got our groove on. Mr. W saw what was going on and shut down our fun and assigned me his favorite punishment, a 300 word essay. (Mr. W didn't usually send students to the office or give detention, but instead had his problem kids write 300 word essays, usually on a music-related topic of his choice, but in this case, he left the topic up to me.)

For many kids, being forced to write 300 words was a punishment worse than a woodshed beating, but I was happy to take it. Instead of writing 300 words about percussion instruments or the piece of music we were playing, I chose to write 300 words telling Mr. W how much I disliked him and his class. I gleefully crafted my paper to reflect my disdain for him and the entire class. I felt pretty clever hurling insults at my teacher and felt confident that I had "won" this quarrel.

Did I mention Mr. W and his family lived next door?
I don't think I did, did I?

That's right, Mr. W lived RIGHT NEXT DOOR. He could wave to my parents from his front porch when they parked in the driveway. We could smell their BBQ when they grilled in the backyard. We could hear voices when their kids would fight upstairs. Yup, Mr. W lived RIGHT NEXT DOOR.

Clearly I wasn't nearly as smart and clever as I thought I was.

The day I turned in my brilliant essay, Mr. W waited until he saw that both of my parents were home and walked over and gave them the paper. He briefly explained what had transpired and told them he wasn't planning on pursuing the matter further because he knew my mom and dad would take care of it. He let them keep my essay.

When Mr. W left, I got the tongue lashing of a lifetime. My parents took turns addressing topics such as respecting authority, what is and isn't appropriate to say to a teacher, my bad attitude about band, the need to buck up and deal, etc, etc.... And then they did something I'll never, ever forget. They laughed and laughed and laughed. They read pieces of my essay out loud and laughed. They told me that writing was a great outlet for my feelings and frustrations, but from here on out, I should just give these kinds of essays to them to enjoy and give the teachers something more bland and appropriate. Don't get me wrong, even though they liked my writing, my parents did not approve of my bad attitude or disrespectful essay, and I was suitably punished (I think I got grounded?) and I never did anything like that again. But who would have thought playing the drums in band would end up making me a better writer?

I didn't ever fall in love with band or Mr. W, but I did take my parents' strong words to heart and had a better attitude about the class. No teacher again ever received one of my seething letters, although I composed many that were never seen. I don't suppose a years-too-late apology would mean much to Mr. W now, but I really am sorry. It must be incredibly difficult dealing with moody and bratty middle schoolers and you deserved respect. I hope wherever you are now, the students love band, or at least fake it better than I did.

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1 comment:

Melanie Spratling Bergeson said...

This absolutely cracked me up and made my day. I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog! I have vivid memories if band too, although I didn't hate it like you! Poor Mr. W...I have thought of his plight keeping us under control and creating great music often as I taught middle school myself!