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.


One Time at Band Camp…

Jackson spent yesterday morning at a mini band camp at the local high school. His elementary band was invited to have a practice with the award-winning, local band and obviously we jumped at the chance. Jackson and his friend were teamed up with a high school trumpet player, while Jackson’s band instructor led a practice. There were awesome big kids walking around teaching them about band etiquette, sharing stories about how the band has helped them in their life, and spreading the importance of learning an instrument. Jackson thought we dropped him off and left, but we secretly stayed behind for a bit to watch the beginning of practice.

Then Jerimiah and I walked across the street to our little coffee shop and had some morning brew. It was the same coffee shop we sat in about a year ago, with a list of houses to see, and discussed how nice the high school across the street was, wondering how many students were there (there’s about 2000) and whether they were a STEM school (they are). We wondered, a couple tables down from where we sat yesterday, if Jackson would fit into this community. If he’d learn and grow here. If we all would.

An hour later we walked back over and watched our son do a concert with his classmates, and new “big kid” mentors. Then we stuck around afterward and watched as the high school band practiced. He smiled as he watched the kids joke around with each other. He saw the camaraderie, the fun, and then the seriousness of what it means to be in a real band. Then he said he might want to play the tuba and we just shook our heads in hilarity. Though yeah, son, play the tuba if you want to, you’d be great!

It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon in a community that’s still new to us, yet becoming more and more familiar every day.