Trial by Fire

I’m sitting at Jackson’s first evening of the DeKalb County Honor Band and I’m watching two things unfold. Firstly, this band has been practicing for a week now, and Jackson and his classmates were thrust into their first practice tonight with little prep work, unsure what to expect, with some uber-talented kids. Fifth graders playing the tuba. Fourth graders on xylophone. A fifth grader on a bass drum. Extraordinary stuff. As I’m watching them warm up, with little direction from the loud, grumpy, but obviously talented band director, they are scrambling to get their notes converted, figure out what’s going on, and concentrating on listening for when it’s their turn to play. Second, Jackson is getting very nervous.

The band isn’t listening. They are goofing off. The director gets mad and makes them go down the line testing each of them on the songs they are supposed to know. Jackson just got the music sheets. He’s ill prepared and starting to sweat as the kids all around him go. They are in orchestra formation. He’s on the trumpet line. The director bypasses his section, more concerned with a flat clarinet. Jackson looks over the sea of winds and music stands until he spies me. I give him a thumbs up. He gives me a sideways thumb back.

The director is moving people around. Telling kids they need to practice. This one is flat. This one is off. He’s gruff. Jackson is unsure. There’s an A Band suddenly, and a B Band. You can tell the A Band belongs to the director. They shrug him off. Kick their music stand. Jackson, and the rest of the B Band, look wide-eyed, waiting to be called out. Nothing. The director marches on.

Percussion solo. Where are the flutes? Show up, flutes. Still no trumpets. The director throws his hands up. New kids, he yells. Looks over toward B Band trumpets. Jackson sits up straight, edge of his seat. New kids, I get it. You’re new. You’re jumping in. Go home and practice. Next practice, jump! You know who we are now. What we are. Who you are. Where you are. You’re supposed to be here. Jump!

Here’s to jumping.


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