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I Remember

Trey Reely | February 2011

    Books on writing suggest various exercises to get the juices flowing when writer’s block takes hold. One technique I’ve found helpful is called “I Remember,” which consists of looking back as far as I can and writing down everything I remember, no matter how insignificant the event may be. Recently, I listed the first 25 things that came to mind from the first four years of band, arranged chronologically. The memories varied from the benign to experiences that influence my teaching to this day. It also gave me the opportunity to reflect on what my current students may most remember.

I remember when…

    The recruiter from the local music store came and showed my fifth grade class at Floyd Elementary School in Montgomery, Alabama all of the band instruments. I was most impressed by the trumpet.
    I started beginning band in the sixth grade on a tarnished silver Olds cornet my dad played when he was in band. My parents told me I would get a new instrument if I worked hard and made progress. To make the old, worn case look better, my mom covered it with red, white, and blue contact paper. Initially I thought it was cool but was ashamed once I got to school. Things could have been worse. My friend Doug started on his grandfather’s soprano saxophone.
    My first band book was the Belwin First Division Band Method.
    Each day we walked from the elementary school to the band room at the junior high school for practice.
    My main competition for first chair was Bucky. His older brother was in the high school band so Bucky always took marching music from him. I had never seen music printed so tiny – I wondered how the high school students could possibly read it. The only tune I remember was “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”
    One day we entered the band room, and our director was not there. Our primeval instincts took over, and we could not resist trying out all the available percussion instruments. I was playing the bass drum when the director returned. He moved me from first chair to last, and to make it worse, I suffered the indignity of being unable to control my emotions. I could not hold back tears as I returned to the elementary school after practice. A boy crying was big news in the sixth grade.
    The director also moved me to last chair when I accidentally made a sound on my instrument. I had not done this before so it seemed a rather harsh punishment. I can’t remember if I cried that time.
    We sold toothbrushes as a fundraiser, which was difficult because they had hard bristles.
   Bucky and I played a “Carnival of Venice” duet on the final concert. The lab band (what it was called before giving way to jazz band) also played at the final concert, and I really loved the up-tempo catchy music. I believe one of the songs they performed was “Proud Mary.”
    After the sixth grade I moved to Auburn, Alabama, and I could not believe that the band was so large and good. It really opened my eyes after the insular world of a small beginning band.
    I felt uncomfortable as the only seventh grader in the eighth grade band. I was there because they started band in seventh grade. I was no longer the first chair and not even close. I was, however, a couple of chairs ahead of a cool dude named Kenny who slouched in his chair and carried himself like a gang member from West Side Story. My only real time of bonding was when everyone in my section got licks from a coach, who was substituting for our director, Miss Patrick. We played our instruments loudly and obnoxiously in the shop building while we were waiting to be tested, but she had told us not to play at all. For the record, I was not there when she told us not to play, and I was actually practicing my music. However, I took one for the team.
    Miss Patrick had a three-strikes system: you received one strike for each time she caught you talking. Some­times she would ask everyone who was talking to raise their hand so she could issue strikes. Honesty was at its highest for the first two strikes but diminished drastically afterward. We all had to hope she didn’t catch us individually for the third strike.
When I was in eighth grade, Miss Patrick gave me a progress report to take home. Up to that time I had only seen progress reports given to students with bad grades so I looked at the paper with some concern only to discover that she was telling my parents how well I was doing.
    We played Pan American March and Kensington Overture at region and state contest that year, but I can’t remember the third selection. We received first divisions at both events.
I remember my hands shaking like crazy on a trumpet solo when some visitors from outside the school watched our rehearsal. I produced the widest vibrato in history.
We had a band skating party and a couple of other band parties. The skating rink was an old, narrow building with dirty wooden floors. I know it was narrow because I never could make it around the corner without hitting the wall.
    Our band uniform was a white shirt with a maroon vest, navy blue pants, and a white sash I could never tie without help.
    I worked with a trombone player named Jimbo on a music project where we arranged a song into a duet. The title escapes me.
    I remember thinking how cool the percussion cadence was, and I can still remember it.
    At our final concert, Miss Patrick dedicated an Olivia Newton-John medley to us. One of the tunes was “I Honestly Love You.” It seems sappy now, but not at the time because we loved her, too.
    I moved back to Montgomery after eighth grade, joining my third band in four years.
    Because I jazzed up the four tuning notes for trumpet (G, A, B, C), I received a C in conduct for the nine weeks, even though I was not called down for anything else the whole grading period. This kept me out of the Junior Honor Society. I apologized to the director the next day but he didn’t seem to appreciate it.
    We played a medley of hits by the group Chicago, and I had a solo on “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”
    I remember the displeasure the band director showed when I tried to coordinate after-school band practices with basketball try-outs.

    As I reflect on these entries I can’t help but be saddened by how much I have forgotten. If there is anything I would change from my childhood it would be to have kept a journal. Also, it’s interesting that my memories closely resemble many of the Facebook entries of my former students who often reflect upon their band memories: firsts, music played, awards, disciplinary measures, seemingly traumatic circumstances, sentimental moments, and social events. If there are any entries on unfair treatment, they’ve blocked me from seeing them.
    Some of these episodes influence my teaching to this day. I don’t move students from first to last chair for disciplinary reasons. If a non-percussionist wants to play drums I will let him play for five minutes if he donates a dollar to the band. I’ve never had my band sell toothbrushes. At the end of each year I write notes to every senior thanking them for their contributions to the band. I help organize social events apart from the regular band events. I treasure and respect the few kids who take time to apologize for their actions. Working amicably with athletes who have conflicts with band is important to me. I once tried the three-strikes system during my student teaching but quickly realized that if every kid received two strikes in a class of 30 students that is a total of 60 times that they could talk without getting in trouble. I decided to go with a stricter system. And finally, to the relief of my own children, I never covered their instrument cases with gaudy red, white, and blue contact paper.