I have a sinking feeling…
Again, noise but this time; it is welcome. I sat in a high school gymnasium brimming full of parents awaiting a band showcase. Some of the children appeared nervous; others nonchalant but you sensed the expectancy in the parents’ faces as they marched up and down stairs searching for the perfect sitting spot; cameras at the ready. This scene unfolds around me time and time again. This showcase culminated a year of achievement for my fifth grader who participated in a large band concert for the first time.
Behind me sat a fellow classmate of my older son, biting her nails nervously. Both she and my son await results from their band try-outs last Friday and shared how their auditions went. As the noise level increased my son edged closer to me; prepping me. I think I did poorly, Mom. I thought it was okay but now, I’m not so sure. After his try-out his band teacher asked if he’d be interested in playing the baritone. Not a good sign. My son plays a trumpet and this will be his third year. He does not take private lessons; though he has had exposure to music at a young age with piano lessons. He is gifted in composition and theory but has not found a comparable teacher since we have returned to our current home. This vertical showcase showed the progression from 1st year band students (5th grade), 2nd year (6th grade) and those in their 3rd year and beyond (jr. high and high school). The concert featured the five elementary schools that feed into our junior high and eventually, hopefully, end up in this same high school gym playing with this high school band program.
The competition is fierce for a chair in these programs; music is a priority in our community. My son’s jr. high drumline ranks first in our region; our high school usually places 1st or 2nd in the world championships in Indianapolis, IN. My older son yearns to be a part of this and practiced hard for his audition. But was it enough? When he did his last run -through it was not perfect and I bit my tongue. He needed more note accuracy, instead of slurring he sometimes tongued notes. I am a saxophonist; not a brass player. The lip positions are not something I understand. The thought had occurred to me to place my son in private lessons and again, I had to fight this urge. Why? Why do I always have to pay money to someone else? Isn’t it enough that the student has the willingness and drive to learn? I feel like this was the sport of swimming all over again. I find that I constantly fight this urge. Just as GATE (gifted and talented education) kids take after school academics to be higher on the curve and two grade levels above where they currently are, do I have to throw my own kids in the frying pan? Instead of keeping up with the Joneses with material things; I’m being forced to keep up with the extremely high academic and performance expectations for my child to even advance in a school program where they are supposed to learn and thrive.
As a parent, would you do this? Would you pay to put your child above the curve? And if so, when do you stop?
When I was a kid, from a poor community, band was the one activity that kept us interested in school. Parents valued and prized our band teacher and profusely thanked him for keeping us engaged and out of boredom and trouble. We naturally progressed, from age 9, each year without try-outs. Very few of my friends ever had exposure to music; especially with piano lessons. I had been one of the very, very few. It was band that sheltered me during the tween and teen years; instantaneous friends that constantly surrounded you. Our common bond was the love of music but it became our social network as well. I had hoped for this for my son, actually sons; for my middle son, much to my husband and I’s surprise, chose band as well. He now plays a saxophone; borrowed from my dear cousin who lives abroad and played for the other university; my college rival. It is a running joke in our family.
My son grew silent beside me during the band showcase, lost in his own thoughts. He wistfully listened to the advanced band from his jr. high (8th graders) perform their piece and my heart grew heavy, worrying. If he doesn’t get into advanced band, will my son give up music forever? It’s his one true love. The doubt crept in and as my hubs peppered him with questions: If I had just reminded him to practice more, I should’ve went to a band boosters meeting to see what other parents do, Why didn’t I get him private lessons? I tossed and turned last evening and this morning; the list supposedly being posted today. I’m mentally preparing myself for how I will cheer him, encourage him. I have another kid two years behind. What should I do for him?
As if my heart wasn’t already heavy, the live coverage from Oklahoma streams live on the TV in our conference room. The picture of elementary school kids being shielded by a teacher and being pulled out of the rubble blurs my vision.
dis·cord noun. thefreedictionary.com
I stepped out of the gym, last night, just prior to the performance and my son came with me. I scanned the audience from my vantage point and recognized a few parents. Amazingly enough, some of these parents were fellow college marching band members who also live in my area. A former band acquaintance is the band teacher for a local elementary school, the other two sets have kids involved in our district band programs. We fight to keep music in our school curriculum and feel convicted of its importance. One of these families brought my family to this bedroom community. We had all looked forward to when our kids would meet during high school.
All of the above definitions of discord describe me:
1a. I disagree with the environment that my kids must live in but sadly this is their reality. In order for them to stay afloat I have to throw them on the boat or abandon ship.
1b. This causes me great strife and resentment. I want to opt out. This is the insidious undercurrent of being a parent today. If you/your child is not gifted you can throw a lot of money at something and kiss butt and maybe it’ll get you somewhere. I had hoped my kid wouldn’t be exposed to this until possibly high school/college or the work place. Elementary and jr. high is a bit much.
2. The band showcase began to sound like a death dirge. Usually I am left in awe of the amazing sights and sounds a concert brings. Last night I began to feel claustrophobic.
3. One of the few things that brings me pure joy now is out of sync and dissonant.
I hugged my middle son; proud of his achievement. He sits in first chair for his section. It gladdens my heart that he chose my instrument. But I feel cheated. Part of my joy was taken away.
I’m hoping the Serenity Prayer helps me today.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Noise is not welcome.