In a normal year, my social media feed would be full of posts from music teacher friends and parents of music students. It’s concert season.
Band, orchestra, choir, drama, and others. Schools, churches, and others. Cute little ones, well-refined older ones, the ones in between who have neither the charm of the littles nor the skill of the bigs.
Those are my students. The ones in between. I love them.
A winter concert for beginning band—at least when I’m running it—is 20 to 30 minutes, enough music to show off what the students have accomplished, solos from students who are capable and willing, and whatever else we come up with that year. Students make the majority of announcements—parents are there to see kids, not me—and audience members have the what and why of a good audience in their program.
I use my “teacher look” on the audience if they’re noisy while my students are performing.
The announcements and program are in both English and Spanish. I tell students they’re nervous about performing on their instruments, and I’m nervous about addressing their parents in Spanish, and no matter who messes up, we’re all going to be OK.
In my career, I’ve organized and executed almost 100 concerts. At this point, most of them blur together. Especially when there are two or three in one week.
While any given concert might be my 75th or my 90th or my centennial, the December concert is still the first for the fifth graders. I offer my excitement to them accordingly and we prepare both music and mindset for the stage.
I don’t remember my first concert, but I still have my music and the program from it.
The only elementary concert I actually remember is from the year we played Sweet Caroline.
My grandmother—my dad’s mom—was my biggest fan. She was also a huge fan of Neil Diamond, and I was excited to be playing a song that she would love.
Being 11 years old, I didn’t consider that the elementary band version might not be the most exciting performance she could attend of Sweet Caroline, and she didn’t say a thing about it.
My grandmom—Mom-mom—came to every performance I had through all of elementary school, middle school, and high school. She didn’t drive, so she recruited someone to pick her up for each one. As a musician herself, she would always give me a little bit more feedback than “good job.” Always enough for me to feel like it was the best performance ever.
Mom-mom was the only relative who supported my decision to go to college for music education. I was supposed to be a genetic engineer or an accountant.
When I graduated from college, she gave me a gift: a scrapbook of all of the programs from all of those concerts. She had saved them all.
The following Christmas, just a week after my first concerts as a band teacher, she said to me quietly, off to the side, “Good for you for doing what you wanted to do.”
My social media feed in 2020 (or, perhaps, 2019) of winter concerts is downstream from that first concert in 1984, of everyone’s first concert. My feed is full of concerts that have parents or grandparents or neighbors who might enjoy better-polished music but wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else that evening.