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Things to Be Thankful For

Trey Reely | November 2014

   I received a phone call a few years ago asking me to speak in Bakersfield, California at a music conference. The caller told me that times had been really tough in California with music cuts and layoffs, and they wanted someone to come in and make them laugh. Talk about pressure!
    When I arrived at the conference, I found out that the caller wasn’t kidding. At the initial session, the participants introduced themselves and then said something like, “My name is Laverne Strasser. I work in Chico where I lost my assistant when he moved to another district, and our district did not replace him. I now have 300 students by myself.” However, the room was not without hope. In fact, there was quite a lot of it, and I was deeply impressed by their ability to be thankful despite the circumstances.
    It is with that in mind that I present this article. I have never written a Thanksgiving column before. The reason is certainly not that I am ungrateful, because I definitely am thankful. I suppose I have avoided the topic because a column on thankfulness might appear cliché at this time of year when seemingly everyone with a column, blog, or Facebook account is doing the same. That being said, I still think it is important to focus on some things to be thankful for; maybe I will get lucky and mention a thing or two you may have overlooked or taken for granted.
    A job that is never boring. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, up to my neck in pointless school-induced paperwork, invoices, and band candy. But bored? Never. A recent survey revealed that 70 percent of Americans are unhappy and bored with their jobs. That’s one demographic I am not in. If I ever felt that way, all I would have to do is look around the bandroom, pick out an instrument, and say to myself “get better playing that before you say you are bored.” There is always something I could play or teach better, even after 29 years. (Drumset is next.)
    A needy, attention-seeking student with a great attitude. This is the kind of student who steps into your office every single day, several times a day, and asks how you are doing. Or maybe he just stands there trying to remember what he was going to say. This can be kind of annoying, but enjoy it while it lasts.
    The greatest subject matter in the world. I’m sure a common theme every convention shares is referring to their respective profession as the greatest in the world. (I have a hard time picturing this being said at a funeral director convention, but I must admit that the work is steady). I do not have the hubris to say we are the greatest profession, but as far as the subject matter goes, one would be hard-pressed to find anything that can bring more joy, more frustration, more stress, more stress relief, and more satisfaction than music – and that’s all in one class period!
    Computers. I fully appreciate some of the newer technological advances in our lives more than some of the younger whippersnappers out there because I remember what times were like without them. Back when I used a typewriter, I would be typing at the bottom of the page, trying to squeeze in just one more line only to have the paper pop out. Lining things back up properly was impossible. And finding numerous typos after the paper was completed had to be a contributing factor to strokes and hypertension suffered by many a student and writer. I have had far fewer problems controlling my temper since the typewriter bit the dust.
    A copier. When I started teaching, there was one copier at our school (we called it a Xerox machine). However, for major copying jobs we were told to use the Ditto machine (also called the spirit duplicator). All I miss from that process was the cool smell of the purple “ink.”
    The internet. In preparation for the previous entry, I actually learned more about Ditto machines with five minutes of research than I ever knew when they were actually used. I will show much writerly discipline now by not boring you with the details of exactly how one works.
    A wide variety of beginning band books and teaching materials. When I started, about the only option was the now venerable Belwin Elementary Band Method. The snare drum parts were ridiculously easy even in book two of the series. I spent one summer rewriting all of the snare parts by hand only to have another method book published the next year with better percussion parts.
    Not having to experience my first year of teaching again. Enough said.
    Air conditioning. I have such tremendous respect for all of the bands of the past that were able to accomplish such great things in bandrooms that were more like saunas than rehearsal areas.
    Readily available weather reports. I’ve made some pretty good calls with my handy weather app that has radar and everything. Not too many years ago I had to go by a morning weather report and my own judgment of how the sky looked.
    Custodians. Have you thanked yours lately?
    Smartphones. Many consider this the top gadget of all time. I can’t say I disagree. Music storage, metronomes, tuners, podcasts, instructional videos, news – you name it, there’s an app for it. I find new uses for it every week. Students even take pictures of band schedules with it, making it harder to be undependable, although some still manage.
    There are, of course, many more things to be thankful for in this Thanksgiving season. I hope you will take the time to think of a few – even if you find yourself freezing in the stands at a football playoff game in late November.