Posts Tagged ‘honor’

The other evening two good friends shared with me something that was at first funny but quickly began to actually frighten me. Our discussion that followed, rooted in what we had watched, has stayed with me–almost haunting me. As a teacher I have many responsibilities but perhaps the most important one of all is accountability. Accountability to myself, to my profession, but most of all, to my students. Teaching–in every conceivable sense–shapes the lives of students, of people. HOW you shape the life of another individual and WHY you shape the life of another individual is equal to (in my humble opinion) the how and why of a doctor saving an individual’s life.

Ok–you’re calling me melodramatic. Let me throw some names out there then: Charles Manson, David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite, Jim Jones, and Adolph Hitler. You’re saying, “But those are CULT leaders! They were crazy!” Yes, they were. But first and foremost, they were teachers! Maybe not in the conventional sense, but ‘teachers’ nonetheless. Through their teachings each created a following–people who looked to them for guidance, understanding, compassion, mentorship, even love. People who had a need and found their need fulfilled by the words and/or actions of teachers.

I could list so many others–religious figures, politicians, business executives–some would have positive influences on people, others would not. It doesn’t really matter and that is not the point of this post. The point is that as teachers (as ADULTS, as HUMAN BEINGS) we have a  responsibility to provide a safe environment where people can grow and to never forget that our students are looking to us for guidance, understanding, compassion, mentorship, and love. Our students savor every word that comes out of our mouths. Our students notice every last detail about us (hey UMMB alums from the early 80’s: if I say “Navy Blue Suit” I have no doubt you will say “Powder Blue Stitching.” Am I right?!).

Starred Thought: The influence a teacher has upon a student is powerful–and they will remember you forever.

Let me make this very personal: People would say that I am a cult leader. Between the UDMB and DMA I have a following of thousands. This scares the living daylights out of me!!! That is NOT what I want nor desire…but when you break it down to brass tacks it sort of is the situation. And again, this scares the living daylights out of me!!!

I prefer to think, hope, whatever, that what I am creating (for lack of a better word at this moment) is a CULTURE.  A culture where PEOPLE are given the tools to make decisions for themselves; a culture where PEOPLE are given the tools to grow, to learn, to lead their lives in a way that is honest; a culture where PEOPLE do not blindly follow but learn to lead themselves.

So what brought all this on????

As I said at the start of this meandering post which accomplishes what I am not sure just yet, I watched something that frightened me. It frightened me because it was narcissistic in nature and contained absolutely no substance whatsoever.

Starred Thought: All hype and no substance makes you a fluff-head. 

Teachers speak – students listen; students absorb; students apply what they learned. What one says MUST have substantive value! Even the smallest of comments are taken from your mouth and put into action by students. The experiences you create for them will become part of the foundation of their lives.  This is scary, scary stuff folks!!! If you spout off rhetoric with no substantive purpose you run the risk of hurting people.

There is a phenomenal quote in the first Jurassic Park movie spoken by the character Ian Malcolm:

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

The internet affords us the LUXURY of being able to leave a digital footprint for hundreds, if not thousands of others to experience. We can “reach” so many, many people. This is a TOOL…a tool that is taken for granted these days; a tool that is abused by many as well. Just because you have this tool available to you doesn’t mean you should use it!  (And the irony is I’m doing just what I said one should not do.)

It was (and still is) never my intention to create a cult. It was (and still is) my intention to create positive learning experiences for my students that they would never have if not for the UDMB, if not for DMA. THAT is creating a culture! Yes, I have a following and yes the reality of that is frightening to me. I hope beyond hope that I always remember just how fragile that following is, just how impressionable they are, just how needy they are. I hope I always remember that:

With great power comes great responsibility.

Teaching is a form of ‘power.’ Teaching requires great responsibility. …always check your ego at the door and remember,  you are shaping LIVES!

UDMB @ BoA Newark, PA Regional

UDMB @ BoA Newark, PA Regional

There was a man who once said, “I love watching lots of people doing great things.”  This man was correct as there is perhaps nothing more rewarding than a group of individuals working together toward a common goal.  In this case we are talking about over 400 people (330 in the UDMB and another 70+ volunteers–parents, friends, colleagues) working 3-4 hour shifts, doing a wide variety of jobs from ticket sales, program selling, tshirt pressing, moving high school bands around the athletic complex, greeting band directors, and setup / cleanup….all for one purpose: creating an experience OTHERS will remember for a lifetime.

The world we live in is one of selfishness. We are products of a society whose mantra is “What’s in it for me?”  This is an extraordinary narrow life view.  The humanity has been beaten out of us to such a degree that people no longer have the ability to communicate with another member of the species unless it is via an electronic device.  Social interaction is the newest phobia.  And yet yesterday I watched my students go out of their way for each other as they went beyond and above the call of duty for thousands of strangers.

26 high school bands were in our “house.” They came to us from as far north as Connecticut to as far south as Georgia.  They brought parents, friends, siblings, extended family members.  Community members from Newark, Delaware were there as well. Family and friends of the UDMB too.  Thousands of people passed through the gates of UD stadium and spent the day relishing the talents of over 3000 musicians and performers–who gave their all in the spirit of competition, education, and growth.

Bands of America came to UD for their Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship.  UD and the UDMB were their hosts.  The day began at 5:45 am and ended at 11:45 pm. The UDMB performed twice in exhibition–once at the conclusion of prelims and again at the conclusion of finals.  …and yes, the band grabbed the audience by the throat and said, “You will love us.”  …and they did.

I could write for pages about all the incredible moments woven within the fabric of those 18 hours but it is not necessary.  I will simply state in print what I said to the members of the UDMB last night at the conclusion of their last performance:

I have never been more proud of this band as I am today.

…there were, of course, many shenanigans taking place throughout the day as well…I leave you with an image of my transportation for the day. Decorations were courtesy of my professional staff….

Sarv's Ride

Sarv’s Ride

For the first time in my career–perhaps life–I find myself enjoying a moment of peace and restfulness.  I’m sitting on my deck at home, sipping a new coffee from my favorite coffee roaster in New Jersey (Moon Doggie Coffee Roasters – try them!) called “Ground Zero – Fat Man French Roast.”  It’s 64 degrees outside, the deck is still in the shade and I’m sweating.  Ok, perhaps a little too much TMI there but do I like to provide you, The Reader, with the complete picture whenever possible.  It is T-minus 10 hours, 45 minutes before the start of my 20th band camp as director of the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band…I have nothing to do but laundry while I get my scores and drill charts organized.  Everything seems ready to go…I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t just a little nervous about not having to run around like a crazy person doing last minute projects but all seems to be in place so I’ll take advantage of this momentary “quiet before the storm.”

20 years…when did that happen?? I do not know if I’m more astonished that 20 years have flown by or that I’m still here after 20 years.  Now do not let that last statement upset you, it is nothing more than an obvious observation: 20 years at one institution is a long time in this day and age.  I do not believe that in 1995 I thought UD would be my “last stop.” Frankly I do not believe I thought anything other than “how do I survive my first day as band director at a major university?!”  A dear friend once called me “loyal to a fault.”  It was, and quite frankly, still is the most accurate assessment of my nature.  When something in my life “works” I stick with it to the end, be it bitter or sweet.  People do ask though why I haven’t moved on to “bigger and better” things.  There are multiple reasons for this and I will not delve into them because each would require a magnitude of explanation for those out there who do not understand the “nature of the beast” (college marching band). I will just offer a blanket statement: I know my demons here and THAT is reason enough.

How does one measure 20 years at the same job? Three dogs (Walter (ATB), Buford (ATB) and Della) and four cats (Sheba (ATB), Guinness, Oscar and Shalli). No children (unless you count the 6000 that have shared each academic year with me over the course of the last two decades). One apartment, one rental house, one owned house. The loss of both parents, best friend, and countless other friends, relatives and colleagues.  Three cars (Celica, Infiniti and Infiniti). Two arthroscopies (one on each knee), one partial knee replacement, and gallbladder removal.  One ulcer. Trifocals.

Well that is certainly one way to measure 20 years….but how about we do it another way?

Trips to Boston, UMASS (countless times), MICCA, ACCs in Scranton and Hershey, various shows at Frawley Stadium, Allentown, Navy, Towson, JMU, Connecticut, Washington Township, GRAND NATS in Indianapolis, Chattanooga – twice!, Texas (sort of), the 9-11 halftime show during Band Day w/UMASS, new uniforms (2002), new uniforms (2013), George Parks getting stuck on the lift–in the air (priceless), FOILED!, FORKED!, CAR PAINTED!, POST-IT NOTED!

I’m sure I missed a bunch of other momentous occasions but these seem to stand out as the most significant milestones.  In my life I’ve loved them all…

I’ve been asked a few times already, and I’m sure I’ll be asked the same question many more times as the year unfolds: “What is your favorite moment from the last 20 years?”  For me it is not an event, not an occurrence, not any singular moment in time.  It is that in all my time here there has been one other constant: Jim Ancona. There are very few programs in the country that can claim a partnership such as ours.  Twenty years of growth and understanding all based upon the same philosophical point of view.  I can think of only one other such partnership (George Parks & Thom Hannum).  I think Jim and I are in some pretty good company.

What will the next 20 years bring?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? Let’s aim for 12 or 15 at the most and close the door with a nice quiet retirement at a beach house near Rehoboth, ok?  What is in store for the rest of the journey until retirement arrives is not for us to say, nor to guess.  Wherever the road takes me is where I will go…but if the last 20 were any indication of what the last third of the journey will be like I think we’re in for quite a wild ride!

T-minus 9 hours, 20 minutes until BAND CAMP #20.

—sarv

(Oh, hey alumni?  Homecoming: October 18.  FIGURE IT OUT!)

Band Day 2013: 64 degrees in the morning. Clear blue skies. Cover up with sunscreen and let rehearsal begin.

12 noon: 13 high school and middle schools being to arrive. Multiple water breaks given to the UDMB to keep them as fresh as possible–for it will be a 12 hour day for the Fightin’ Blue Hens.  Temps up to the mid 70’s. Everything seemed to be pointing to what would be a perfect Band Day @ UD.

Little did people know, Jim, Rah and I were hitting the refresh button on all our weather apps and radar apps…..”it” was coming and “it” was not going to be pretty.

After a little re-evaluation on the rehearsal schedule Band Day got underway! Over 700 performers shouting “Together, In, Out, Back…,” etc. echoed across South Campus.  Melodies of old rock and roll and new rock and roll were heard as far as the Green on North Campus.  The grid was laid out and the annual procedure of getting on and off the field commenced.  (It is and will always be about PROCEDURE even if one doesn’t have it written down in a 100+ page manual.  🙂  And just like that it was over.  It was time to move the visiting bands to their seats in the stadium. It was time for the UDMB to do the usual pre-pregame performances around the parking lots and under the stands.  And in a blink of an eye it was time for Pregame!

Halfway through pre game, in the middle of the National Anthem, “it” began.  A slight drip here and there, then a steady mist, and then a shower. By the time the first quarter ended we were experiencing a steady rain.  I looked to the stands where the high school and middle school bands sat expecting to see a mass exodus, for who in their right mind would ever choose to stay out in the rain to perform at a football game when they didn’t have to.  But there was no mass exodus.  There was simply a calm and quiet sense of resolution: we came here to experience something we do not get to do regularly and we will not miss out on this opportunity.

And of course, halftime was phenomenal. And of course all the school bands left IMMEDIATELY at the conclusion of the performance. And of course the UDMB stayed until the bitter end of a UD football win (or perhaps decimation would be more accurate) in order to play/sing with the team and of course perform “In My Life.”  And yes, reminiscent of my days in college band, when asked “How are your feet?” the response was “WET!”  …and it deteriorated from there.

But what of those lessons I referred to in the title of this post? What were they?

  1. Embrace the uncomfortable and you will find beauty is woven throughout.
  2. Share misery with others and you will soon laugh together as you’ve never laughed before.
  3. Band will give you what you want: if you want to have a great time you will find it in band; if you want to be miserable you will also find that in band—it is about CHOICE.
  4. When you see a puddle, jump in it — you’re already soaked so what harm will it do if you have some fun?
  5. Surround yourself with great people and they will make any situation worthwhile.
  6. And for Pete’s sake, don’t forget to DANCE!

Band is a place where you will experience life in a way you never dreamed possible.  You will make friendships that will last a lifetime. You will learn to appreciate the smallest of details as well as the largest ones.  You will learn to take time out of your busy day to day life to experience JOY.

And finally, when you are soaked through to your underwear despite wearing Gore-Tex everything and your new Athletic Director, who is also soaked completely through, puts you in a bear hug and asks with a massive smile on his face “Are we having fun yet?!,” you respond with a heartfelt “yes!” while beaming on the inside, for you wonder if perhaps someone else wasn’t there with you for a brief moment making sure you remember why you do what you do……

A crisp September Saturday morning is at hand.  Coffee is steaming in a mug.  The pup and kitties are scattered around the house searching for an early morning sunspot in order to warm themselves while they snore away the rest of the morning.  And me…..?  I’m sitting in front of a computer screen drinking said coffee while considering various schedules for rehearsal later this morning.

The life of a college band director.  Piece of cake.  Let’s face it, what do we REALLY do after all? After 26 years of teaching I still hear the same thing from my academic colleagues:  “You’re the band director?  What do you teach? Do you teach any classes?” Of course that’s what they continue to ask year after year because let’s face it, marching band, heck, music in general, certainly isn’t a class!  …sigh….

So what do I teach?  Let’s see what kind of list I can create off the top of my head:

  • Respect
  • Discipline
  • Team Work
  • Responsibility
  • Commitment
  • Dedication
  • Leadership Skills
  • Communication Skills
  • Teaching Skills
  • Trust
  • Loyalty
  • Integrity
  • Obligation
  • Time Management
  • Organizational Skills
  • Honor
  • Courtesy
  • Civility
  • and the pursuit of individual as well as group excellence.

But Heidi, academic course have exams!  Well of course they do, and so does the Marching Band.  Every single performance is a MAJOR exam.  Think outside the box people—just because one doesn’t sit at a desk and put pencil to paper does not mean that they are not taking an exam. My exams are administered in front of 23,000 people on a regular basis who give you a grade each and every time.  Not only are the students being tested but so is the staff and so am I.  These exams can be measured according to the same rubric of any other exam–in fact, they are!

Each and every day I require my students (and myself) to do better than the day before. Maybe that means coming to rehearsal having memorized more music. Maybe that means a person has developed a wider range of dynamic control on their instrument. Or maybe that means a person made an extra effort and arrived 5 minutes early to help ANOTHER student “get better.”

Pursuit of excellence is a journey–you do not ever arrive at excellence.  “Hey look gang! We made it! We’re now excellent!”  …yeah, right.  If only it were so.  The journey or pursuit is a continuous process–one for the individual and another one for the total group.  Today’s CLASS will continue the pursuit of excellence for the band (and myself) using all the skill sets mentioned above. Today’s EXAM will tell the band (and myself) whether we made the correct choices toward further excellence and also what we need to work on in preparation for the next exam.

Music is entertainment….sure. I get that. But you know what? Entertainers work just as hard as anyone else in this world, and their contributions to the beauty of life is just as important as the next major technological breakthrough.

Ok, time to chase the dream….Ah-GAIN!

…thank you.

It has been MONTHS since I took the time to post here and I’m not all that sure why.  There were many times I had this particular post running around in my cluttered mind but simply didn’t make the time.  Hmmm…that is unacceptable for me.  I will attempt to be better at my communication….until the calendar starts to fill up again.  🙂

The holiday season has come and gone and I was struck by how many people were “chatting” about all the things they were thankful for.  What struck me was the number of posts that addressed the present and future but very little about the past.  I found that interesting.  Now, don’t get me wrong–I’m BEYOND grateful for all the wonderful people currently in my life and the wonderful things I am experiencing.  Thankful simply doesn’t come close to how I feel about all I have.  But I also know that if it weren’t for all that came before (people and experiences) I would NEVER be where I am today!

We are all a composite of everyone who has crossed our paths–the “big” people in our lives (family members, teachers, role models, etc.) and the “little” people in our lives (the stock boy at the supermarket, the front desk manager at the hotel, the man who held the door for you at WaWa, etc.).  Every person and every event you’ve ever encountered and experienced had an impact on WHO you’ve become!

…when you stop to think about that it quickly becomes overwhelming…

So as I sit here in a hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with the balcony door open and the salt air coming into the room, enjoying nice cup of coffee and getting ready work with the Bowl Games of America All-Star Band and the high school bands joining us for a massed band finale with the Miami Sound Machine at the BCS National Title Game I want to give a “shout out” to the people who contributed to this crazy person my students call SARV—

  • Mom and Dad;
  • The Basses, Sarvers, Dinbarts, and Hoffmans (and all the other family extensions!);
  • My music teachers (Mrs. Goldblatt, Miss Gonzales, Mrs. Andrews, Mr. Brown, Mr. Law, Mr. Sayre, Mr. Goff, Mr. Beavers, Dr. Deihl, Dr. Bundy, Mr. Chesnut, Mr. Rowell, George;
  • The neighborhood kids who screamed outside our living room window telling me to stop practicing piano (….I didn’t);
  • All those who understood that my trumpet was always in my possession and band was life whether they “got it” or not;
  • My friends in college who did (and still do) “get it;”
  • All the Reading Bucs and other drum corps folks;
  • My past colleagues who shared the same dream–becoming a college band director or music professor–but for their own reasons chose different paths;
  • Former students who shaped all the programs I’ve ever been part of;

And this could go on forever–it is infinite.

For me it is simple: we are who we are because of those who have come in and out of our lives.  They have all left their mark upon our lives.  But there is one particular group of people I wish to address that is not necessarily of the traditional listing, my predecessors.

**My predecessors, most recently J. Robert King, David Blackington, Robert Streckfuss and Alan Hamant. Some of you I know, some of you I’ve never met.  But because of YOU I have been able to do what I have done at UD.  Each of you has carved part of the path, ultimately passing the keys for the bulldozer to your successor, just as I will do one day.  The path before me is unpaved, raw, and in some ways, unknown.  The bulldozer, however sits idling on a paved surface–you have to remember to look BEHIND you to see the paved road others created before you took over the controls.

So often people begin a new position (just as I did 18 years ago) and approach it from a position of “the world begins with me.”  This is NOT true.  No matter how hard one tries to deny the past, what came before you DID exist. You cannot erase it–ever.  All you are going to do is leave YOUR mark next to the marks that everyone who came before left.  Your mark will not wipe away anything–to think so is foolish.  Your mark is added to the picture, just another imprint on the “life” of whatever it is you’re part of.  Some marks will be big and loud. Some marks will be soft and small.  Regardless of which yours is, it is a mere part of the whole that others will add to long after you have moved on.

So to all those who came before me, thank you.  Thank you for what YOU created. Had you not paved the path before me I wouldn’t have been able to even GET to the bulldozer, let alone carry on all you did.