I’m publishing this at what is essentially the start of my last week of being a band director.
After 12 years of teaching middle school band (six spent teaching band & chorus simultaneously), I am making a move to elementary music. Ideally, this move will free up time for me to spend with my daughter as well as allow for more creativity in curriculum and a wider variety of musical activities to lead. Rumor has it that my predecessor at my upcoming school wanted to start a ukulele club, and I would love to take up that cause.
I joined band at age 11, in sixth grade, in sleepy Deltona, Florida. I loved music, and I wanted to play music. I didn’t have much access any other way to be involved in music. Band gave me an outlet and something to really care about after what had been a turbulent time in my life.
When I was 14 years old, in the spring of 1997 and in the second half of my eighth grade year, my grandfather died, my (estranged) father was hospitalized and very nearly died, and a friend of mine was shot & killed locally. My refuge was band. My school bandroom was my home. I cared so much about what my band director thought that I waited until the last day of school to tell her I wanted to be a music major. Her response would determine my future, I was sure.
She said to me, “Well, it’s really hard work, but you’re a hard worker.” I was set.
When I was 16, after my winter band concert my sophomore year of high school, having lapped up everything I could in high school band (and picked up bassoon?!), I told my mother, my other authority on my life’s choice, that I wanted to be a band director when I grew up. She told me that sounded like a good job for me.
My destiny was set. I had no idea what I would be getting into at that point, but I knew.
I busted my butt in college, having still lacked resources prior to that, and made it happen. I did indeed work hard. I got involved. Really involved. As much as I possibly could get involved. I saw a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that went into music education, from a situational, organizational, and even legislative standpoint. I had the most wonderful student teaching experience I could have asked for.
Right in the midst of my sophomore year band camp, while on student staff in the marching band, my father did pass away. My friends and my band peer group were the net that caught me in what could have been a freefall time of my life. I knew even more than ever that the cause of music was the cause I had to dedicate my life to.
I spent six years in undergrad because I was bent on getting the absolute most out of my experience. I’d like to think that I did.
I got my first job at age 24. I worked and worked and did not achieve much of the sort of success I’d sought, but good lord, I did get to do my dream job.
Of course, it was very different than what I’d imagined it to be. But the job took on much more meaning, too. Success as I’d envisioned it before in the field evaded me, and essentially has my entire career. But so much more happened along the way.
I had spells of believing that I should leave the profession, and periods in which I thought I would definitely lose my job. I got hired in April of 2007, which was recognized later by economists as the official start of the massive recession of the late 00s. I held on; I survived where many others did not.
I moved schools after my first six years. It was time, and the circumstances of my life required it. I took on teaching middle school chorus.
Some days, I must admit, I love teaching chorus more than I love teaching band. Only on some days, though.
I went on to get my masters degree. I studied with very important people in the field and when they complimented me, I felt like a million bucks. I learned so much, and more so than just learning about band directing, I learned about the place of my work, why it meant so much, how we can change the field that we’re in, and possibly most importantly of all, I learned so many skills that transferred to parenting, which was the challenge I faced the very year after I finished grad school.
Looking back at the constantly overexcited girl, often found wearing pink corduroy shorts & carrying a piccolo (or heavy sweaters in Florida & lugging around a bassoon), I imagined you might have been able to tell her to do something different. Lots of people tried. You might have been able to tell her that band directing was not the path for her or that things would eventually change.
I can guarantee that she would not have listened, though. I would bet the balance of my student loans that there was no way she would have listened.
I cannot say that I look back at the past 12 years with no regrets. I have plenty of them. There were situations I mishandled. There were so many circumstances in which I overreacted. There are hundreds of programming changes I’d have made. But part of those regrets and cringe-inducing moments come with time and learning. Of course I know how to go about organizing Solo & Ensemble better now than I did 11 years ago. And there are still so many things about my job that I don’t feel sufficient in at all.
And over the last five years, I’ve been thinking so much about how much change we need in our profession. What we need to do to reach kids. What we should be doing to reflect the values of a multicultural society. Teaching popular music through appreciation study and performance is just the tip of the iceberg here. I obviously still value band, and chorus, and orchestra, and so many aspects of traditional American music education. And I have taught many kids who were just like me, who needed a place to be and an outlet. And I hope I’ve given even a little bit to them of what was given to me.
But do I regret giving what I’ve given to the job? Do I regret making the career choices that I’ve made? Do I regret the time invested, even driving across the entire county just so a single kid could be supervised at a rehearsal?
No. I don’t regret doing the work at all. The kids are the best part of the job. And I don’t regret having given what I’ve given.
I hope my students take whatever I’ve been able to offer them and move forward with it. If I’ve done that, I’ve achieved every bit of success I set my sights on. And it was all worth it.