Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Living Vicariously Through Them

Last night was Kellen and Kendrie’s first piano recital. The students played in order, from newest student to longest (?) student. So, it goes without saying, since Kellen started playing in February, and Kendrie started in April, that the Escoe portion of the recital was over in the first five minutes.

Kendrie is so new that she didn’t even play a song --- she played SCALES, for goodness sake. But still, they did well, and we took the requisite photos and video, and I was feeling quite proud of my kids. I’m not one of those obnoxious sports parents, reliving my glory days through my children, because when it comes to athletics, I don’t HAVE any glory days. My background, if I even have one to claim, would probably be in music.

When I was in the 5th grade, I decided to join the band. That was the first year in school that we were allowed to learn an instrument, and I mainly did it because my mom played the flute when she was in high school and I thought the stories she told about band sounded like fun. Plus, some of the cute fifth grade boys were trying out, so it only made sense that I should try out too, right? Because our school was so small, the elementary, junior high, and high school all had the same band director, a man named Mr. Moore.

After the first few weeks of basic music instruction on the recorder (which, for the record, I can *still* play the Marine Corps theme song, thank you very much) he pulled my parents aside and suggested the instrument I should learn was the French horn. Not exactly the dainty little flute like I had envisioned, but I was willing to give it a go. Already, only a few weeks into the program, I loved my new band director and whatever he said was golden, in my opinion. If he wanted me to play the French horn, then the French horn it was. I guess I should just be glad he didn’t suggest the tuba.

So in fifth and sixth grade, I learned to play the French horn. And despite the fact the instrument was almost bigger than I was, I enjoyed it. I learned with one of my dearest friends, who also played the French horn, who I am still friends with to this day. And I practiced, and took private lessons, and had a lot of fun in band.

When we got up into junior high band, those of us that were good enough were invited to play with the senior high band (again, one of the perks of being in a small school). So for seventh and eighth grade, I played junior high band, and senior high band, and marched in the marching band. We were actually pretty good, and got to compete and advance in district and state competitions, both individually, and as a group. At that point, you could probably say I was a certified band geek, because of how much I loved it. It wasn’t like band was ALL I did; I was involved in other school activities as well, but band was definitely my favorite.

It helped that I adored the director. He was a magnificent teacher --- patient, encouraging, helpful, strict, funny --- because of him, it wasn’t even un-cool to be in our high school band. We had lots of athletes, brainiacs, etc, also in the band. It was just a fun, satisfying thing to do, and because we were relatively good, we could all be proud of belonging. Everyone loved the director, but I thought he walked on water. Even on the days I didn’t feel like practicing, or would feel frustrated over a difficult piece of music, it never crossed my mind to quit, because he made it so wonderful and I loved it so much.

I got even more involved when, on Mr. Moore’s suggestion, I took private saxophone lessons for a summer, then joined the jazz band my freshman year, playing the tenor sax. It became my dream to grow up and play lead tenor sax for Maynard Ferguson. (Seriously, Birdland, anyone? Does it get any better than that? I don’t think so.)

What can I say? Band totally rocked. We marched in parades; marched at football games, played pep band at basketball games. We took trips to Missouri, Florida, and Kansas, for band contests. We attended concerts as a group, and we got to miss school for competitions (and when you are in high school, that is a HUGE perk!) Our stage band even went into a recording studio and made a recording once, which was awesome.

I loved band. Loved it. Loved Mr. Moore, loved everything about it. And not to toot my own horn (ha! Get it??? Toot my own horn?? Whoo-boy, I crack myself up) but I didn’t completely suck at it. I mean, Harvard School of Music wasn’t beating a path to my door, but the sounds that came out of my instruments were NOT total crap.

Then, the end of my freshman year, Mr. Moore announced that he was changing jobs -- he would be a professor of music at a nearby university. I was devastated. Happy for him, wonderful career opportunity, yeah, blah blah, but my ego-centric 14-year old world was crushed. Because of him, band was this wonderful, amazing, fulfilling, huge component of my life, and how would things go when he was out of it?

Terrible, as it turned out.

Our school made the mistake of hiring our new director fresh out of college. Not that *that* was a problem, particularly, but he had just completed his semester of student teaching at our very school. Maybe the school board thought that familiarity would make the transition go smoothly, but all it did was set up an environment of resent and disrespect. We had just spent an entire semester calling him by his first name, treating him as little more than a peer, and making fun of him behind his back because he was SO the complete polar opposite of the director we loved and missed …. And now, suddenly, he wanted to lead us. He had no experience, and was only a few years older than most of us. He didn’t have an ounce of authority figure in his entire body, or the ability to inspire or encourage any of us, yet he wanted – demanded -- our respect.

I’m ashamed, as an adult, to say that I totally, 100%, unequivocally, did NOT give it to him. Neither did anyone else. The shoes that this new band director had to fill were SO freaking huge, there was no way he could do it. He really never had a chance. We ripped that poor guy to shreds, and our band program went right down the toilet. On rapid-flush.***

I stuck it out the first year, and stayed in all three bands (marching, orchestra, and jazz.) Band membership dropped by about 30% that year alone, just on the announcement that he was the new director. My sister, who played the clarinet, had taken private lessons from him when he was a college student, and she quit the day they announced he got the job. Suddenly, it was no longer “cool” to be in our band.

After the first year I dropped out of stage band; we had gone from being one of the best in the state, to, well, horrible. It was embarrassing. The skill level of the members just plummeted and we couldn’t play songs even half as difficult as we had played before.

After my junior year, I dropped out of the orchestra as well. My parents had recently bought me a brand new French horn, which was a pretty hefty investment back in the day, and I just bailed. Words can’t describe how much I disliked the new director --- how my whole attitude towards band had nose-dived and it became a chore I hated, and was frustrated and embarrassed to be involved in. Oh my gosh, we SUCKED, and I wanted out. I can only imagine the frustration my parents must have felt as well, after making that expensive purchase and then seeing the instrument collect dust in my closet. Seven YEARS of music lessons and classes and competitions, and I pulled the drain.

My senior year, Mr. Moore invited me to play in his college orchestra, and I tried it for a few weeks, but the damage was done. My music skills hadn’t improved since my freshman year, and I had purposely gotten involved in other school activities instead. I was working full time as well, and quite frankly, couldn’t hack it at the university level.

My freshman year of college, I sold the French horn for spending money, and have never played a musical instrument since.

It is one of my biggest regrets.

I don’t regret dropping out of band --- it had genuinely become a miserable experience and I’ll never be sorry I quit. But I’m sorry I didn’t find other ways to continue my music; private lessons, community bands, anything. Perhaps if I had continued to play and learn and improve, I could have tried out for band at the college level and made myself a whole new set of wonderful memories.

I’ll never know, because I quit. Because I hated the new director, and he had ruined it for me.

I did keep in touch with Mr. Moore – he lived two doors down from my grandparents, so I saw him on occasion. In fact, he sang at my and Blaine's wedding, and my memories of him as my high school band director are still some of my most cherished.

Tonight, at the piano recital, one of the more advanced students was playing a very difficult piece and stumbled in the middle. She paused, thought about it for a moment, and started again. It reminded me of the exact moment in my past when I knew I was done with band.

It was my junior year, and I was at the district competition with my band-mates. I was competing in a French horn duet, a French horn trio, a brass ensemble, a saxophone quartet, and a French horn solo. You are scored at these competitions -- either a 1, 2, or 3, with minuses and pluses. Anyone, or group, getting a 1 on their performance advances to the state competition, something I had done every single year up to that point.

Maybe I had over-extended myself that year, playing so many groups, but I don’t think so. With Mr. Moore’s encouragement, I had competed in that many events in years past and done fine. I think my heart simply wasn’t in it anymore. Playing in a group, it was easy to fake it. But the solo was another story. My good friend, the other French horn player, was my accompanist, and we hadn’t practiced together much at all. You have to care about something to practice it, and I didn’t. Solo pieces, however, must be played from memorization ….. something which *does* require practice. Which I hadn’t done.

(Yeah, you can pretty much see where this is going.)

I got about half way through my French horn solo, and completely went blank. I had no clue what came next in my song, and tried to fake my way through it. I kept messing up, and my poor friend was trying desperately to accompany me as I slogged my way deeper and deeper into a musical mess. Finally, the head judge told me to stop, and get up and go look at the music to find my place. Problem was, I didn’t know how to read piano music. My girlfriend was discreetly pointing to the proper location in the music, and I had no idea how to read it.

It might have been one of the most embarrassing moments of my young life, up to that point. If I had had any poise at all, I should have simply apologized for wasting the three judges’ time and excused myself. But instead, I sat back down, and kept blundering through, making mistake after mistake, until finally I just quit playing in shame and disgust.

At that moment, I knew I was through with band.

It had gone from being one of my most proud accomplishments, and favorite activities, to an embarrassment -- something I couldn’t even be bothered with learning for a competition.

Tonight, when that young girl was able to finish her piece with skill and talent and self-assurance, I re-lived all those memories.

Now, (this is where it gets weird and you have to live in a small town to understand,) the reason Kellen wanted to take piano lessons in the first place is because a class mate of his played the piano in music class one day shortly after we moved here, and he thought it was cool. So I called that classmate's mother (who I used to babysit when I was a teenager -- more small town weirdness!) and got the name of their piano instructor, and signed Kellen up for lessons. Kendrie followed soon after.

Tonight, being a student of the same teacher, that classmate was also at the recital.

She is Mr. Moore’s great-niece, and he was there as well.

I hadn’t seen him in probably fifteen or twenty years, and I greatly enjoyed getting to chat, even for just a moment, with him and his wife. After the program, he came up and complimented my children on how they had done playing the piano. I made a joke about them being so new, and Kendrie only playing scales, and how hopefully next year they’ll be at a slightly higher skill level.

And Mr. Moore looked me right in the eye, and said, “Well, they’ve certainly got the genes for it, so I know they’ll do great.”

It has been 27 years since the man was my band director, and I still felt the most amazing sense of pride and happiness when he said that. Is that SICK?!?!?!?!

And honestly, I still feel sadness that I never explored any potential I might have had, but just gave up in the face of adversity. I’ve tried to remind myself over the years that when you are fifteen or sixteen years old, you don’t have the same skills or resources you have as an adult when it comes to handling difficult situations or difficult people. But still, the adult-me wants to look back at the frustrated-teenage-me and say, “Don’t quit! You’ll regret it!!”

Which is why instead of being an obnoxious sports parent, I’m fairly certain I’m going to become an obnoxious music parent, and never let my kids quit piano. EVER.

***PS. For what it’s worth, the new band director continued the downward spiral at our school for a few more years, until the entire band program was basically face-down in the sewer, no pulse, no respiration. Then he left our school and took the director position at another local high school, much larger; no-one there knew him and he wasn’t constantly having to try to measure up to his predecessor. Sort of a “no-baggage” situation for him. From everything I’ve heard, that band program was a huge success and he was very well liked. And while I’m glad for him, I must say that I’m still very sad about my own experience. And maybe a little bitter. And hmmmmm, perhaps I need therapy that it still bothers me even 27 years later.


Stefunkc said...

I feel like I was just reading my own words, except about piano and school show choir. Why is it that we can't have those thoughts when we're younger and 'in the moment?'

Personally, my girls are taking lessons until they graduate high school. In college it will be their choice. You never hear anyone say, "I wish I hadn't taken piano for so many years."

Oh Mr. Moore. He has, for most of my life, been one of my favorite neighbors. It's nice to hear so many wonderful things said about him!

I guess at this point the comment is so long that I should have just e-mailed. Too late.

Dianna in Louisiana said...

It's never too late Kristie.... never too late.... I think you should go out and by a new french horn today. Mr. Moore sounds like a great guy. My own "Mr. Moore" was named Ms. Speights. She was the senior English teacher at my high school and what a wonderful teacher she is (was?).

Becca said...

I LOVED playing piano, and still love playing piano. I started at age 5, and took lessons throughout high school. I tried lessons in college, but the level was too intense for me. I wish I was better than I am, but it brings me much joy and peace. Hopefully Kellen and Kendrie will love it, too.
My little sister quit piano. She is much younger than my other sister and me, and felt discouraged that she couldn't play the same pieces we could. She also didn't have the WONDERFUL teacher that we had at the beginning. Now, at age 20, she is trying to teach herself, and actually doing quite well. The couple of years she had stuck with her, and she can read the music and practices herself. She regrets that she quit.
Music--piano, trumpet, and the two choirs I was in--provides some of my best high school memories. I hope it provides my daughter with many happy years, too (though she's not even 1 yet--I'll give her a few years).

Anonymous said...

I was in band for two years, but following in the footsteps of my award winning, talented, musical older sister was no fun at all so I dropped out. She won every stinking award you could win in our home state for music in high school. ALL of them. First chair allstate, first chair big city youth orchestra, blah, blah, blah....speaking of therapy.

She on the other hand has a master's degree from Indiana University in music and played professionally for several years before deciding she hated it, didn't want to do it anymore, and today is a project manager for an investment banker and hasn't played her instrument for 10 years. Her only regret is her son won't know that "Mom was musical." My brother-in-law is a college music professor so my nephew thinks Dad is musical and Mom plays with money. So I guess sometimes it just depends where you are when you quit.

I did learn to play guitar in college, but I just play for my own enjoyment occasionally, and I took up competitive mountain biking.

My poor childrens' earliest memories are certain to be in a bike trailer. I already know I'll be the obnoxious bike parent. Who else puts their toddlers on $200 bicycles?!

lizinsumner said...

Oh wow - like, total flashbacks!! I hated my yearly piano recitals sooo much, because we had to memorize our pieces. And, when I was five years old and playing something really simple and got to go on at the beginning of the program, it wasn't so bad. Fast forward a number of years to age 13and having had to memorize all 4 movements of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (that's over 20 sheets of music, folks - took me months to get it down!!), and not being able to play until over 2 1/2 hours into the program, and sitting and stewing in my own sweat until then - and ALWAYS being afraid of blanking out while performing (which, thankfully, I never did), and getting dragged kicking and screaming to the beauty shop for a bouffant hairdo and having to wear church clothes and well, the whole thing was just plain traumatic. But, like you, I adored my teacher. She died accidentally (fell off her roof) when I was sixteen, and I could NEVER find another teacher that could take her place. But, I still own a piano, and I still play. Some. When I feel like it. And, when no one else is around to hear. So, go Kellen and Kenrie - and here's to hoping that your recitals are much less stressful than mine were. Playing the piano is a fun skill to have....take it from me...

Becky, in N. TX said...

The BEST teachers are those whose words and actions continue to inspire us years after our daily contact with them. We all have one, sometimes two, who fit that bill. How blessed we are to have known them!

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Wow, sounds like I could have written this! I went to a small school, small town, but our band was renowned for being so good for such a small school. It was also a fairly large band for the size school we had. We went all over the country as well as the Bahamas, never made less than straight superiors at any competition, and it was the best time of my life. Our director was GOD to us, and I was so proud to be in band; all the best and most popular students in school were in band. Then it happened--our beloved director gave up music and moved out of state. Luckily, it happened the year after I graduated, but our band turned into a joke after that. A very small joke, as almost everyone quit when the new director took over. Sadly, 25 years later the band still hasn't completely recovered. Odd thing was, this director took over from the previous director who had been there 30 something years and was like an icon, and the new guy was so good that there was none of the resentment and transition period there usually is when a new director takes over. In a side note, I also took piano lessons for years, and have always wanted to be able to sit down and play the piano like a pro, but sadly piano was not my forte. I sucked at it from day one, and even after nine years of lessons, to this day I cannot play a note. Not even a scale. Pathetic.


Anonymous said...

Your career ending competition sounds like mine except insert "vocal solo" for the french horn. I didn't get to pick the piece, the instructor did. It was too high for my voice and with nerves added on, well, it sucked. I was totally embarrassed and could hardly squeak through it to get my pathetic 3. Never sang another solo again

Glad your kids are enjoying the music. It's a great gift!


Jacqueline said...

Sounds sort of like what happened to me...I started playing sax in 6th grade (earliest that we were allowed by the district)...went on to play in junior high, but due to a leave of absence of our band director (who was the cat's meow) during my 8th grade year and the abrupt departure of the wonderful high school band director that I was anticipating having just before I entered high school...I didn't last long. I did marching season in 10th grade and somewhat enjoyed it, but our new director had no clue and things were chaotic...I was verbally abused by the others in my section, and he did nothing about it...there was no direction and the band was a laughing stock and I felt my time was greatly wasted. Sometimes I look at my sax now and wish I had stuck with it...but I've grown musically in other areas due to my best friend and being in various rock bands...so not all is lost. Still sad, though...I used to be pretty good at sax.

Cate said...

Kristie, today is a banner day in Bend, OR. The Sonic opened today. I think I'll go get a Diet Dr. Pepper and cry happy tears.

~*~Snappz~*~ said...

Wow. Awesome post, Kristie :-)
I recently purchased (on a total whim) a brand new flute. I used to play, back in high school. I had to give up lessons and sell my flute when my dad got pretty sick.
It's been about 10 years since I've touched a flute, something I probably should have considered when spending a couple of hundred dollars on a new one ...
Learning (or trying) to play again has made me remember how much I enjoyed playing, and it's also made me realise how good I was back then. Then, I could play songs. Now? I can get one note out at a time before I forget what I'm doing and have to start again.
Ahh well. Guess I'll just keep plodding along, having fun, trying to make something, anything, that resembles music.

Gin said...

Wow, I could have written the part about your band experience! I too started playing in 5th grade, joined the marching band, concert band, and symphonic band starting in 7th grade. Loved, loved, loved our band director. Most of the girls even had a crush on him. LOL! He left for a bigger opportunity my Freshman year and things spiraled down from there. My friends and I all dropped out after our Junior year! I played clarinet though. I never regretted it at the time, but do look back now and wonder what if.

Snodgrass & Matilda said...

I taught the violin for 10 years, and I wish I had a dollar for every parent who ever said to me "I wish my parents had never let me quit." I'd be retired on the profits right now.

I hope your kids learn to love music - and I hope they're blessed with an inspiring Mr. Moore of their own.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that your children are taking piano and enjoying it! My son came home from school in the 2nd grade and said he heard a classmate play piano and thought he could do that, too, and that it would be fun to take lessons. Learning piano is such a good base for learning any other instrument. My son is 19 now and just finished his first year in college as a Music Industry major. He takes private paino and sax at the university and is in several bands and ensembles there. I don't know where the talent comes from, but he sure loves it. He had a bad high school director, too, (not as bad as yours, though) but stuck it out and is so glad he did. It's so much fun for him to be able to sit down and play the piano now. I hope your kids stick with it!

Gayle in AL

Andrea said...

Wow, I can totally relate to this only it was my high school choir. The first three years we had an amazing instructor. She left before my senior year and her replacement was awful. We went from getting the highest marks at state competition to getting the lowest marks. Thankfully I took private vocal lessons from her and kept those up into college. I also had a wonderful piano teacher. I don't regret a moment of those years of lessons and practice and competitions.

I'd just like to add that it's never too late to start again. My mom started piano lessons when she was almost 50 and continued for over 15 years. She'll never be great (she's not very musical at all) but she did it simply because it was something she always wanted to do and she enjoyed it. My instructor became her instructor and let her progress at her own pace and encouraged her to keep playing even if she isn't the most talented because she saw how much fun my mom had doing it. If you ever for a moment think about playing again, I say go for it, be a little selfish and do it simply because you want to. I'm slowly saving up for an electric piano so I can resume playing on a regular basis.

Tricia said...

My husband was an amazing guitarist and supported himself playing in a band, but gave it up for a more "sensible" career. I can still see the ache in his heart.

Anonymous said...

Kristie, thanks for the trip down memory lane. Your band experiences are much like mine. I was a band geek too but with a great middle school and high school experience. I even played trumpet for 2 years in Jr. College in the Jazz band. When I transferred to UTA, in Arlington, TX, I pretty much let it go. That is regretful. But what is even more regretful is that I sold a Stradivarious Trumpet for $150 bucks! I was a poor college kid and I needed some money.
My husband tried to do something nice for me a couple of years ago by renting a trumpet from a local music store. After 20 years of not playing, it was like starting over at ground zero! Then I realized...my life is full whether I play the trumpet or not and I am thankful for such wonderful memories.

Anonymous said...

oops! I almost forgot...I actually say Maynard Ferguson in concert! I actually drove to East Texas State University from Ft. Worth and hit a armadillo on the interstate!

Hannah said...

I read your blog quite often. One of my friends sent me the link once. Your post about music reminded me of my music experiences. I played the bassoon until college...too expensive to buy my own. I also played piano for 12 years. I still sit down and play at my parent's. I wish my husband and I had one!!!

I hope your kids are enjoying their piano lessons. They will appreciate it later in life :)

cakeburnette said...

OMG!!!!!!!!!!! Almost the exact same thing happened at my high school! In my town, the high school/middle school band director was so well-loved and had made the band program so prestigious that our 3A band was the same size as the bands in 6A schools! There were 250 band members out of 450 students, in fact.

Anyway, he had some health problems the year I was in the 6th grade and retired beginning the year I was in the 7th grade, which is the year band started in our town. The school board hired some fresh-out-of-college geek (he was so young, in fact, that he and his new bride used to sit in the back of one of the band buses and make out on the way home from away football games) that everyone HATED. Fortunately for everyone involved, he hated us right back and left after a year and then our old band director "un-retired" and came back to lead us all. So, I suppose my story had a happy ending, so it wasn't as much like yours as I originally thought.

Cathy in MI said...

Did your old school ever get a band program back in good shape?

My band director from middle school and high school still teaches at my kid's school. My daughter graduated last year after having him for 7 years in band. My son just started his first year with same director this year. It's so fun and he is a Mr. Moore type director. We are going to be at such a loss when he retires - I am so sad already for the day that we know is coming.

Great job on the kids starting piano - I hope they keep it up and excel! Does Brayden play? Do you have a piano at home?

Anonymous said...


I have 5 kids....told them all they were taking piano lessons through 8th grade....it worked with the first couple. Then,naturally, I got tired of the "you have to practice your piano or else" routine.
But the moral of the story is.....no matter how may years they take lessons, it's not wasted.
All my kids have gone back and "toyed" at the keys and my 2 girls have actually taken it up back in college!! How cool is that. What they learned is staying with them for life!

Minnesota Matron said...

I think we are meant - born to use -- our talents and when we set them aside, for whatever reason, we injure ourselves on some psychic level. With big writing awards, an agent, some hearty rejections and two unpublished novels under my belt, understanding that prose is my calling keeps me going, in the face of difficulties.

Lauren said...

I've thanked my lucky stars for a while now that I wasn't following in the footsteps of a beloved drama teacher when I began my teaching career - I was the first drama teacher at that school, which meant there was MUCH less pressure. (And I selfishly admit, I was kind of happy that several kids dropped the class when I left a few years later.)

Then again, karma caught up with me at my next school - the drama teacher I replaced had left to move to NYC to pursue her professional modeling career. The 8,000,000 male students in my classes were NOT impressed with the faculty change... :D

Caroline said...

I had such a similar experience with my middle school band director. We LOVED him and then he left early in my 8th grade year. They replaced him with this small, very quiet mousy woman who was terrible. Luckily I just had to finish the 8th grade and I was off to high school, but she drove that program into the ground. And I was devastated. I still keep in touch with Mr. Shelton, and yes, I still love him :)

Lucy and Ethel said...

What a terrific post. I'm sure you speak for MANY.

My mother taught piano at home; I took a few lessons from her and some from a teacher SHE had had... in an old music conservatory. I was @ 11, the only student Miss T had who wasn't in college. Interesting.

Somewhere in there, I also started cello, and after a time with that, I happened to faint after a lesson. Just too much on top of everything else in life. I dropped cello and just played 2-piano with my mother in various places and with 2 of her stellar pupils in two 2-piano recitals (follow that?!?!?). It was great fun, and we LOVED to practice.

Lots of memories with your post... most of them really fond.

Thanks :)