Not Finished Yet

Becky Rodgers Warren | October November 2020

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank the tens of thousands of music educators who are facing the toughest year of their careers. Like all of you, I spent last spring learning to navigate the waters of our new normal.  However, my perspective was a bit different from most. I was completing my 40th and final year as a band director – my retirement planned before anyone had even heard of Covid-19. Since then I have enjoyed sleeping in, spending time with family and friends, planning a winter getaway, and learning that there is life outside of the band room. However, I have greatly missed my students and co-workers, and as time goes on, I will miss concerts, parades, football games, festivals, conferences, and so much more.

    I had no idea that my final semester as a band director would involve a global pandemic. I was so unsure as to what the future would bring. My days were filled with awaiting student emails, assignment submissions, and Zoom meetings. I spent a great deal of time reconnecting with music that I had not taken the time to listen to in decades. In teaching band for 40 years, I had lost some of my own connectivity to the joys of great band literature. Through all of those dark days, I became even more sure of how much of a difference band makes in the lives of our students. We must not give up on helping them to learn the joy of making and sharing music.
    As a child, I was the only redhead in my elementary school and stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. I was shy, introverted, unsure of myself, and really just wanted to blend in. That all changed in 6th grade when I started in band. Over the years, being in band gave me confidence. I had a place to belong. I was safe in band. I was successful in band. That shy, gawky redhead learned to have a voice, become a leader, and share a passion for music and music education. One day, she even had the confidence to introduce herself to a stranger at the Midwest Clinic, a band director named John Warren from a far-away place called North Dakota. The rest, as they say, is history. Band not only made a difference in my life – it gave me my life – and what a life it has been!
    I began my career in rural Alabama.  Having grown up there, I thought I knew my state. I was wrong. When I started teaching in 1980, I had many students whose parents were coal miners. One day I took a student home and realized her family did not have indoor plumbing. I had seen outhouses but did not realize that people still used them. A few weeks later her grandfather came to me and said he wanted to buy his granddaughter a new trumpet. Knowing there might be a lack of money, I suggested that the one she had was just fine. “No, we want to get her a good one because band just might be what helps her go to college someday.” He was right. That Bach trumpet helped her go to college. I have seen that type of thing repeated countless times in my 40 years.
    I hope all band directors continue to realize what an impact they have on their band families. This was brought home to me as I stood in front of my band at State Contest, a day after our trombone section leader was buried. I looked at the band just before starting On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss and thought, “I can’t do this. You have to.” With Justin’s family sitting in the audience, those kids gave a truly superior performance. Our band grieved as any family would at such a tragic time, but we leaned on each other for support.
    I must give thanks to the greatest band people in my life including my high school director Bill Brunner and my college director Edd Jones. The passion my fellow teachers have for band students and music education has always inspired me to be a better teacher. This group of people includes “The Cullman County Connection,” the “Chick Band Directors,” and the band staffs at Ft. Payne High School and Mandan Middle School. These wonderful teachers certainly make a difference in their students’ lives.
    Early in my career, a college teacher encouraged me to get involved in the professional organizations of music education. They have made such a difference in my teaching. I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with music educators through membership in and service to the Alabama Bandmasters Association, the Alabama & North Dakota Music Educators Association, and Phi Beta Mu. Seeing professionals come together to teach each other, learn from each other, and share with each other makes all of us better teachers. I truly look forward to continuing professional affiliations as well as my personal music education even in retirement.
    So, as you all continue your band journey please remember this on the toughest of days – you will get through this time. You will come out stronger, more resourceful, more empathetic, and even a better music educator than when this madness began. What you do matters. What we do matters. I can’t be finished just yet. I have so much more that I want to share, so much more I want to learn.
    In May I realized that the end of my 40th year would not be what I expected. There was no huge crescendo and rallentando with a grand chord on my final fermata. Instead, it was a slight ritardando, at pianissimo, and with a very gentle release on the final note. I have always loved slow and pretty much more than grandioso. I am fine with my ending because it really isn’t an ending. I am sure there is at least one more D.S. al Coda in my future.

– Rebecca Rodgers Warren, Wife, Dog Mom, and still a Band Director