The younger boy played his last clarinet concert on Saturday. It was a bittersweet experience for me, full of all kinds of memories.
When he was in third grade, he was so very excited that the elementary school music teacher was going to start them on playing recorders. Actually, the words “so very excited” don’t even approach what he was, but you get the idea. Anyway, the year went on, and no recorder was brought home. He kept asking the teacher, “but I thought you said we were going to play the recorder?” and she would say, “Soon! Soon!”
Finally, May arrived. She told the third graders that she wasn’t going to have time to get them started on recorders that year, but they’d definitely do it in fourth grade. Music teacher FAIL.
His enthusiasm didn’t fade, however. In fourth grade he got his recorder and totally loved that thing. Thank goodness it was worth the wait for him.
In fifth grade, it was time to decide not only if he wanted to try band or orchestra, but which instrument he wanted to play. (If I remember correctly, they were allowed to give their top three choices in instruments, and the teachers would place them with what they thought would be a good fit.) He ended up with the clarinet, which was cool because Julesie played clarinet through high school and she told him that eventually they could jam together. We signed up to rent the clarinet from a local business that works closely with the school; they also apply rental payments towards the purchase of the instrument.
Although he wasn’t “into” practicing for as many daily minutes as recommended without a bunch of nagging, he became very good at playing. In fact, once he had the basics down, we realized that he was able to play music by ear. Jim and I were blown away because neither one of us has musical talent. Well, outside of my mad skillz with rhythm and “feeling the beat” while I teach group fitness. But playing? Nope.
The younger boy thought his middle school band teacher was fabulous (and he was). At the end of the year, we were blown away by how much the band had learned as we were treated to a short, end-of-the-year concert (See that dark flag on the back wall, the one farthest left? Look under that and slightly left; there he is.):
Towards the end of fifth grade he bought his first guitar (an acoustic) with money he had saved up. His fifth grade classroom teacher played guitar and encouraged kids with guitars to bring them to school on designated days so they could all jam together. He was so very excited about that guitar (to say the least) and we were so very excited about his excitement for music.
When he moved on to middle school, we were really in the throes of trying to figure out what to do with him and his talent. I contacted his sixth grade band teacher to get her opinion: I had this kid who could play clarinet by ear and was pretty good at guitar basics for his age, and did she have any suggestions for me? She told me that at his age she’d really like to see him work towards mastery at one or the other in school, rather than becoming “so-so” on two instruments. She offered him a position in the Honor Band (extra-curricular) without a tryout, and suggested that he compete in the spring band contest. So that’s what he did. (He still despised the practice time, though!) He stayed in Honor Band during sixth and seventh grade, and competed in the spring band contest both years (the first year in a trio and the second year in a duet).
When he had enough money saved in seventh grade, he bought his first electric guitar. We decided that we should probably put him in lessons outside of school for that, because he really, really loved his guitars and was trying to teach himself; we didn’t want him to have to fix bad habits that he might pick up that way.
At the end of seventh grade when it was time to choose his elective classes, he told us that not only did he not wish to spend his Monday and Wednesday mornings before school practicing for Honor Band, but he did not want to compete in the spring band concert.
Oh yeah, and he didn’t want to continue with clarinet in eighth grade. He wanted to focus on guitar and his interest in clarinet was quickly waning. Shoot.
But not so fast, little one. We had two more payments on the clarinet and it was all ours. (of course. Isn’t that what always happens?) AAAAND, if you don’t stick with band, you have to do chorus or orchestra or some other class that is there for the non-music kids.
We decided that it would be best for him to stay in band through eighth grade, and then he could give it up once he got to high school if he wanted to. He wasn’t really thrilled about that but didn’t fight us on it either, especially when we told him that he could give up Honor Band and competing in the Spring. After having a short break from guitar lessons, we put him back in weekly private sessions at the music store just outside of our neighborhood.
And so, we’re now at the end of eighth grade. Our school district has an annual Fine Arts Festival at which the middle- and high school bands, orchestras, and choruses perform (and the district’s visual arts students have work displayed prominently all over the place). It’s a required performance, and the only time of year when all three middle school bands in our district play together.
As I sat there waiting for them to begin, my mind drifted to everything I have just written about. And then they played, and I couldn’t believe what a difference three years makes. Check it out. He’s the second clarinetist from the left.
He has come so far and is so talented in the area of music that it’s thrilling to me. I’m a little sad that he’s giving up the clarinet but his first love is the guitar and that’s fine with me. He has mentioned several different potential careers in music over the past year:
*being the guitarist in a rock band (Jim and I told him that we are *totally* behind him on this as long as he makes enough money at it to live at his own place someday)
*being a music teacher
*starting his own guitar design company
If his passion for the guitar doesn’t wane (and there are no indications so far that it will), I have no doubt that he could be very successful in anything he decides to do in the music industry.
I sat there on Saturday, thinking about how far he’s come as a musician from that first concert and how far he can go.
I also thought about this scene from one of my favorite movies, “Mr. Holland’s Opus”. Music teachers make so much of an impact on children of all ages. The Music (and Art) programs at our schools are underappreciated, and they are often the first to be cut in a budget crisis. This movie is heartwarming and inspiring. This particular scene is at the end. I cry every single time I watch it. In fact, I watched this clip by itself and was a little wet around the eyeballs. (Jim also loves this movie but gets choked up at this scene–and subsequently all stuffed up–and proclaims every time, “I HATE this frickin’ movie!” But he doesn’t, really.)
Anyway, enjoy. And give a special thank you to your children’s fine arts teachers. They change lives everyday.