In eighth grade, I realized how much my two best girlfriends wished they were in band like me. Band was the center of my world, and my heart ached that they had nothing in their lives like I had in mine.
Frankie was musically illiterate. Shelly wasn’t. She was a good pianist. But we didn’t have a piano in band.
I occasionally brought Frankie and Shelly to the band hall after school when no sectionals were scheduled. My band director, Mr. Phillip Wilson, welcomed everybody into our band family.
When junior high graduation loomed, Mr. Wilson said, “Bring Frankie and Shelly to see me after school on Friday.” He would not tell me why.
Frankie and Shelly were nervous that Mr. Wilson had summoned them. So was I. When the three of us arrived, he offered them a chair. They sat. He asked them if they would like to be in high school band. He explained that they could both become percussionists: it wasn’t too late. He told Shelly that her piano background would allow her to play glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba, and chimes. He told Frankie that she could learn to play drums, cymbals, triangle, woodblock, maracas. They were stunned. So was I. My Mr. Wilson could make this happen. My friends would be part of the high school band.
We all showed up together the first day of marching band practice. The high school band director never learned that this was the first day of band for them. They worked hard, and each learned to make important contributions to the band.
But the crowning glory was when our band played Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. We needed a harpist. And who could quickly learn to play harp? Only one person in the band: Shelly. And she played like the angels in heaven.
So ever since I was in eighth grade, I’ve had a heart for kids who wanted to be in band but never had the opportunity. Maybe they lived on farms and had to milk the cows early and late. Or they couldn’t afford an instrument. Or their families thought band was only for sissies. And they didn’t have a Mr. Wilson to give them an entry point into band in tenth grade.
I saw one of those kids a few months ago. At 3:00 in the afternoon, we went to The Shack in Jessieville for the world’s best hamburger. School let out while we were there. Three children came in, probably seventh graders. They sat at the counter. The kids on either end had a musical instrument case and a cell phone. They ordered sodas and candy. The child in the middle had no instrument case and no cell phone. He asked only for a glass of water.
I thought, “That’s a child whose friends are in band, but he can’t be. I wish I could help. I wish Mr. Wilson could tell me what to do.”
I haven’t seen those children again, but several months later, God had something new in store for me.
The president of our local New Horizons Band (New Horizons International Music Association) asked me to teach woodwind sectionals. New Horizons is an international organization for senior citizens who played in a school band and want to play again. Or for senior citizens who always wanted to learn to play an instrument but never had the opportunity; they missed the entry portal in sixth or seventh grade. They couldn’t afford an instrument. Or they had to work on the farm. Or their families thought band was for sissies. And they didn’t have a Mr. Wilson to give them a second chance at an entry portal in high school.
Me? Teach woodwind sectionals? I was stunned. I am a good, solid player. I know a lot about the theory of woodwinds because I’m a scholar by nature. And I am a teacher by trade… 36 years by trade. But I’m not a music teacher, and I am CERTAINLY not a virtuoso.
I said I would think about it.
The next week, a dozen people came up to me and said, “I’m so glad you’re going to be our new woodwind teacher!”
I said, “Uhhhhhmmmm…”
So that’s how it happened. I started today teaching God’s grey-haired children who never got to be in band. The little girls who sat at school assemblies enraptured by the band that they could not be part of. The little boys who watched the band march by and wanted to touch the bright, shiny trumpets singing the fanfares. The children who cried in their beds because band itself had passed them by. Because they didn’t have a Mr. Wilson to help them.
So I suppose, through the voice of our New Horizons president, I heard a voice calling in the night. I asked, “Is it I, Lord?”
Apparently, this time, it is.