Feeding Your Soul

I wrote to some very dear friends this past weekend the following words:

During the course of any given year I approach my role with the UDMB, Symphonic Band, student teachers and any other encounter with my students as a chance to “provide a life changing experience they would not have if not for band.” This upcoming week will be one of those that exceeds such definition.

I can tell everyone the week exceeded such definition in ways I did not anticipate. The proverbial envelope was pushed, the emotional rollercoaster was a wild ride (and we are just getting to the final section of high speed twists and exhilarating turns). The discussions and conversations about the past, about philosophy, about life and all that comes with it reached depths that I’m not sure any of us involved could have planned nor expected.

The week has been a treat unlike any other. And perhaps one has to truly know the “players” in order to understand how such experiences could happen in such a short period of time with such profound and visceral outcomes. Those of you, however, that do know Bill Rowell, Jim Ancona and myself are most likely not remotely surprised by any of these words.

It began a little over a year ago–it was conceived in selfishness. How do we extend our 20th year celebration into the spring semester? The fall was easy–it’s called Alumni Band @ Homecoming. That day was spectacular–over 200 UDMB alumni returned.  We all ate, drank, told stories and of course, ripped apart “La Suerte de Los Tontos” at halftime…because we could!  Again, that was easy.  The spring was another matter.

“Hey Jim, what do you think about asking Bill Rowell to spend a week with us and guest conduct on the last concert?”

That was it–that was the selfish germ that began it all. The journey that followed included a visit to Amherst, MA, coffee, and a discussion regarding the program. (I hear laughter right now coming from cyberspace…”a discussion?” “You had a discussion with Rowell about programing.” “BWAHAHAHAH!”) Those that are chucking are indeed, correct.  I sat down with Mr. Rowell (I still struggle calling him “Bill”–it’s how I was raised I suppose) and he said something to the effect of “Heidi, I certainly do not want to tell you what to do. This is your concert.” He then took out a piece of paper with a complete program already in place!  Again–if you know the “players” you’re not surprised!

We narrowed a few things down and came up with what will be the second half of tonight’s culminating event. A little Grainger (of course!), some Ticheli (“Heidi, what if you played the offstage trumpet solo?”) and a march that is PURE Rowell–one that took me a week to listen to and finally begin to laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all.  I characterize it as a the love child of Ives’ “Country Band March” and Mackey’s “Xerxes.”

The discussions in the music education and conducting classes were thoughtful and insightful. The open Q & A yesterday turned to a discussion about the rehearsal.  (Mr. Rowell took the entire two hour rehearsal on Tuesday…and if we didn’t stop him he could have continued for another two hours.  Within 2 minutes of beginning it was as if I had been transported to room 36 in FAC–nothing had changed! When I told him this later that evening he said, “I don’t know any other way.” My students do not know what hit them but they are “hungrier” than they ever were and for that alone I am grateful that time has not mellowed the man.”) We even Skyped in Sanford Jones, another UMASS alum, from Germany.

Dinners were wonderful trips down memory lane of course, as were the car rides back and forth to the hotel. But everything I’ve written thus far is nothing one wouldn’t expect when a former teacher is invited back to be a guest. There was one difference:

The emotional journey this has been for all of us (Bill, Jim and I) was transporting and suspended time. I’ve been in a bubble the last few days–one that has brought me closer to understanding how utterly important it is to stop brooding over the past, stop worrying about the future, and LIVE in the present. (I have another friend who does this and I have been envious of it for a couple of years. I now have a bit of a better understanding due to the personal immersion of this week.)

We fed our souls this week. It was a by-product of a standard event conceived in selfishness that I did not anticipate. It was a win-win-win situation.  The students were exposed to the teachings of a man who taught all of his students to look inward and find resilience and strength. Jim and I were able to share our podium with a mentor and in turn learn a bit more about ourselves. But the biggest winner was Mr. Rowell.  Jim and I knew this would be a special week but it turned into a gift unlike any we could have planned.

To borrow Mr. Rowell’s words for a moment, “Art is not a thing. Art is a way.”  And this week was, indeed, art.