Earlier this year, I handed out an arrangement of The Pink Panther to my jazz band and was amazed to look up and see that my drummer had a triangle ready to go without me having to say anything to him about it. Triangles are rarely used in jazz selections, so I thought it might throw him off having to have one, and my concert band percussionists have been known to leave out auxiliary percussion parts as if they are optional. Sometimes I’m not sure whether my percussionists can’t read or are too lazy to walk over to the percussion cabinet and extract the needed item. The jazz band looked at me like I was from Mars as I excitedly jumped up and down like I had won the lottery. As I have gotten older, instances like this are not rare; I have increasingly become very excited about things that didn’t seem quite so thrilling as a novice director. Here are a few things that make me giddy with delight.
Shopping at Lowe’s. I found out a few years ago that Lowe’s is quite the hot spot for Saturday night dates (if you’re both over 50). After the noise and bustle of band all week, there is something strangely soothing about walking up and down aisles of fertilizer, lighting fixtures, and PVC pipe. It’s even more exciting when I find a doo-dad that I can use in band for some arcane purpose.
Having nowhere to go on the weekend. When I’m not walking around Lowe’s, it is great to have absolutely nowhere to go. I think some people are almost ashamed to say they didn’t do anything over the weekend, but a band director never should.
Getting out of bed in the morning with no pulled muscles. Sleeping seems to be the most dangerous activity I do. A crick in my neck, lower back pain, and sprained fingers are all potential maladies that may greet me in the morning.
The percussion section actually hitting the triangle with a triangle beater as opposed to a broken wind chime bar, pixie stick, or small freshman.
No drum sticks or mutes are dropped during a performance. Forget about all the other aspects of a musical performance; sometimes I’m happy if a mute or stick doesn’t hit the floor and bounce three or four times during a soft, expressive passage.
Seeing a student mark music with a pencil without being threatened. It drives me crazy when band students sit like they are made of stone after they miss a key signature or should notate a direction I have given. When I see a kid voluntarily marking music, a shot of adrenaline hits me like a sledgehammer.
Hearing a kid practice a difficult passage right before rehearsal instead of Seven Nation Army or some other pep band standard. This excitement increases exponentially when I hear a lip slur, scale, or some other fundamental.
In rehearsal, hearing students play the dynamics on a new piece without being told. I get even more excited when percussionists do this. My teacher self-esteem goes through the roof on this one.
In rehearsal, hearing students add dynamics that are not even written on the page. There’s nothing like having musicians bloom before my very eyes.
All our junior high drummers having their own sticks, as opposed to unmatched ones they have pilfered from the percussion cabinet or “borrowed” from students in other class periods.
When the athletic teams clean the bus after their trip, so that band members don’t have to wade through mounds of fast food debris just to sit down on their trip the next day.
Hearing a student figure out a melody. Earlier this year, I heard Louis Armstrong’s La Vie En Rose flowing down the hallway from the fine arts center lobby. I walked down the hall to find an eighth-grade trumpet player who just moved into the district. “This guy’s a keeper,” I thought excitedly. Subsequent weeks proved me right.
Hearing band students debating matters concerning music. Discussions about mouthpieces, best brands of guitars, and even a little trash talk about who is the best player really gets me fired up. I’m so glad they care.
When there is perfect attendance at rehearsal. Maybe perfect attendance is a given with your band, but I have so many involved in athletics during the fall that when combined with other matters, there is almost always someone missing for a game or practice. In the spring, absences for field trips, school testing, flu outbreaks, and hypochondria take their toll. We had such a good run of perfect attendance earlier this semester that I promised the band that I would stop raving about it.
When band students like a song from my childhood. When I was a kid, I didn’t want to have anything to do with my parents’ music, so I’m particularly pleased when my band loves playing medleys of hits by Stevie Wonder, Chicago, and Earth, Wind, and Fire.
I have found that life is more fulfilling when I am easily amused. Even now, I am about to go have the time of my life watching cat videos on YouTube.