Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

I loathe the end of the school year. I cannot stand goodbyes. It has gotten to the point that I don’t even go to commencement because I do not trust that I won’t break down into tears. Frankly, I hate endings. There is, however, one moment I relish even less:

Student Staff Leadership Announcement Day

The students wait with baited breath for the Facebook post to hit. They get worked up, filled with anxiety, desperate for the results of auditions and interviews. I, however, sit and stare at the list for days on end. No matter what I do I am going to disappoint some of my students. Some will take a deep breath when they don’t see their name on the list and are ok. Some will become so angry they will throw a chair through a glass door (yes, this happened once). Some will be furious with me – they think I hate them, or at the very least, don’t like them. Some will quit band altogether.

  • I sit and stare at the list of names knowing that I cannot give leadership positions out just because a student is a senior and I want to do something nice for them before they graduate.
  • I sit and stare at the list of names knowing I must be a teacher and do what I think is in the best interest of each student applicant.
  • I sit and stare at the list of names knowing that if my students don’t learn what it is to not get something they want while still in college they may NEVER learn that hard lesson.
  • I sit and stare…and stare…at the equivalent of a surgical waterproof bandage placed over a wound that must be removed after 7-10 days. A bandage that has almost become one with the skin. You want to rip it off fast like a bandaid but you can’t. If you do you run the risk of tearing the skin and ripping the wound open. So you proceed gingerly and carefully and slowly….and the agony lasts “forever.” Finally it’s off and all you can do is sit back and hope for the best.

Ladies and gentlemen: being in band is not, has never been, and will never be about securing and holding a leadership title. Sure it’s cool. Sure it means you have a chance to practice teaching. Sure it means you’ve been given responsibilities. Sure it means you can have an impact on the program.  But you can do all those things WITHOUT A TITLE!!

  • Being a member in your band means setting an example for others. You don’t need a title to do that.
  • Being a member in your band means helping the person next to you, teaching the person next to you. You don’t need a title to do that.
  • Being a member in your band means being responsible for knowing your music and drill. You don’t need a title to do that.
  • Being a member in your band means having an impact on other members, your institution, and every person who ever sees the program. You don’t need a title to do that.
  • Being a member in your band is cool in and of itself — and don’t let anyone ever tell you any differently! (…and you don’t need a title to do that.)

Sometimes being a leader is harder than usual…and this is one of those times.

Congratulations to all who received positions on the 2017 UDMB Leadership Staff. Congratulations to ALL the applicants too — you put yourselves out there and took a chance. That is a bigger accomplishment than anything else!

Those of us who are engaged in the fall edition of pageantry have been “at it” for a little over a month thus far. Each summer, as the start date for Band Camp creeps closer and closer, my level of apprehension is in direct proportion to the timeline: the closer we get the more apprehensive I get. It is a mix of anticipation, excitement, and primal terror!

This year was no different than any other except for a few personal reasons:

  • coming off a much needed sabbatical
  • fully recovered from a second hip replacement
  • finally getting on top of my health and feeling AWESOME

I started camp, however, the same way — apprehensive — but at least I was in a more positive frame of mind.

As camp progressed I did, however, notice a distinct difference between what I perceived the trajectory to be this year versus what it has been for the last…I don’t know so let’s say “number of years.” This could be directly related to my attitude and my approach or it could be something else or it could be a combination of many things. Regardless, something was different.

Rehearsals have been productive; only two performances in–with only one of them being the full show–and the energy is skyrocketing. Communication among the student leadership is topnotch–stronger and more proactive than previous years. In short, there just seems to be a whole lot of JOY out on the field, as well as OFF the field!

One of the reasons may be the inquisitiveness of the student leadership: they ask PROPER questions; they are engaged; they “do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, whether they want to do it or not, and without being asked.” They are not afraid to inquire about WHY of things in order to understand more–which brings me to the reason for this post.  I received an email from a student wanting to know why I felt this year was different when compared to last year. More specifically, the student still sees many, many mistakes that need to be corrected. To use the student’s own words:

 “I’m curious as to what you see from your point of view that we don’t. This has just puzzeled me as there is still so much room for improvement for this band.”

The student is, of course, correct!  It’s September 19th and we haven’t even scratched the surface with regard to cleaning. There is SO much to be done.

It is about perspective; it is about experience. It is not something I expect anyone IN the band to understand. When you are WITHIN the experience you cannot also stand OUTSIDE of it and “see” the “bigger picture.” If you could…the whole world would be a much different place!

If you place 100 senior band members in a room and ask them what was their favorite year, odds are in favor of over 98% of them saying “their freshman year.” Why? Simple–it was Christmas for them and nothing is better than Christmas! With that said, one of the hardest learning curves for anyone is to put Christmas away and begin the journey of moving quickly from stage 2 to stage 3.  <To understand these references click here.> Stage 3 is challenging for many reasons because the personal reward is indirect. Asking college students to push through their I/ME stage of development is HUGE! Many do extremely well, others can struggle. By simply asking the question, it is clear this student is on the way to stage 3–only a little push is required!

But I haven’t answered the question…or have I?

Every band is different. The minute you change one single thing, even if it is the EXACT SAME BAND with only ONE person not returning and no new people being added, the composition of the whole has changed! My dear friend George Parks, former director of the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band, used to ask the rookie class “How many of you have seen the UMMB? How many of you want to be in THAT band?”  Virtually every hand would shoot up into the air…and then he dropped the most unexpected statement ever: “Well, you can’t be in that band. That band is GONE! But YOU will be part of making THIS year’s UMMB great!” Of course, no one in the rookie classes ever understood what he was trying to convey. To use my good friend Rob Hammerton’s words:

“Odd thing to say, if you want to rev up your troops on the eve of battle … but his point was: this year’s band is not last year’s. It’s not even the same as last year’s.”

It is best not to analyze the situation, merely to accept it. The 2016 UDMB is NOT better than other years, it is merely different. It is the differences that can make something seem more magical than something else. This does NOT mean other bands were LESS–for every band I have ever had the privilege of working with has been “the best” as far as I’m concerned–it merely means that the proverbial stars have aligned ever so slightly more and there is something intangible about the composition of the various elements that make this band seem to be “more special.”

Of course, it is still early in the season and anything can happen…but I have the feeling this group won’t need to be coaxed to the edge and won’t need to be pushed–they already know how to fly!

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!

It is so easy to point out what is wrong with people or situations these days. It’s all around us all the time. The person who can’t hold a door open for the next customer at the convenience store; the person who races you to a parking spot; the person who blows through a stop sign almost hitting you and gives a look that says YOU were wrong; the person who thinks taking a gun and killing a bunch of strangers is the answer to all their problems….and the list goes on and on and on.

There are many days I shake my head and wonder just why everyone is so angry ALL.THE.TIME.

Take this example for instance–it is one that is my greatest fears given the world we live in.  A man who lives near a high school doesn’t like the “noise” the school’s marching band produces. Answer: take a pellet gun and shoot the kids. Seriously?

But this blog post is NOT about that recent news story, nor is it about gun violence and/or control. It is about realizing if you just look a little closer and TAKE SOME TIME you will find many people who are still GOOD PEOPLE out there.

A few weeks ago I was well into my second metric century ride when it was clear I had misjudged the weather. This was not a sponsored event–it was just me, my ride, and the road. I had two water bottles mixed with half Gatorade/half water and a bunch of riding appropriate snacks in my jersey pockets. I was good. I was set. I could do this.  …and then the humidity jumped and the temps rose from 68 degrees to 81 steadily over the first 30 miles. With this not being a sponsored event I did not have food stops to look forward to–I had to get back to my car after the first loop in order to replenish supplies. That first loop was 38 miles. Down one water bottle and well into the second it was clear I wouldn’t make it back to my car with 8 miles to go and feeling VERY dehydrated.

Rolling into Port Penn along back country Delaware roads I saw a small bait shop that was open. I went in and asked if I could refill my water bottles. This was a simple “mom & pop” type store. Nothing fancy. Just local folks providing small services to local fishermen. The woman looked at me, said “Of course!” Do you need bottled water or Gatorade. We have some of that if you want more than just refilling these bottles.”

And that was when I realized I had only taken a credit card with me and no cash. I told her as much and she said:

“Do you ride through here often?”

I said, “Yes, it’s part of my regular route these last few months.”

She said, “Then the next time you come through, whether tomorrow, next week, next month, you can pay me $3 for this extra bottle of water and this bottle of Gatorade. You cyclists come through all the time and are always so nice.”

I said thank you and promised her I would be back through later that same day. She waved me off and again said whenever I came through would be just fine.

I’m sure you know how the story played out but here you go anyway:  I got back to my car just fine. There was no way I was going to do the second part of the ride–it was just too oppressive and I was not prepared as well as I thought I was. I got in my car and drove back to the little store and put a $5 bill on the counter. I yelled “thank you” to the woman who was now in the back steaming crabs. She looked up, I waved, smiled and left.

Two weeks later I rode through Port Penn again. I was well prepared for my ride but I wanted to stop in and say hello regardless. There she was, smiling at me behind the counter. She reached into the cash box (not a register mind you) and pulled out $2. She said, “You overpaid me last time.” I smiled, went over to the refrigerator, pulled out a bottle of Gatorade and said, “Now we’re even.”

Whether it’s a nice couple who are barely scraping by to make a living and do a good deed for a road weary cyclist, or a surgeon who takes time out of a conference in Vienna to contact you about the concerning email you sent two hours earlier, or another doc who decides to go back to his office–after having left hours earlier for the day/weekend–in order to take care of one of your students…take a moment and look around folks: there really still are GOOD people in the world.

This is not a religious post–but it is about the definition of the word. In fact, let us begin with that:

According to Merriam Webster, the basic definition of the word ‘faith’ is strong belief or trust in someone or something.

There are times when a series of circumstances tests our faith. Days when nothing seems to go right, when every conceivable and inconceivable obstacle appears out of nowhere and is thrown directly in front of you. It takes every ounce of energy you have to avoid running into that brick wall that you are convinced was not there one second ago. By the end of days like those you tend to get into your car, drive out of a darkened parking lot, head home to a quiet house and question why on earth you even bother trying.

Fortunately there are hints of wonder that walk side by side with the challenges—you just have to look hard enough to see them. One of the beautiful gifts I get is watching my students “figure it out.” First, yes, it is a GIFT one receives as a teacher. Second, “figure it out” is sometimes the most important lesson you can ever teach a student.

Today’s young adults want their world to be black and white. “What do I need to do to get an “A?” “What exactly is expected of me in this class?” What do you want me to do at this exact moment in time in order to not be wrong?” This is our world now…but the truth of it all is that there are no answers to the above questions.  The world is NOT black and white friends. The world is 1 million shades of gray.  This means that putting the gray matter located inside your skull to work is the only option you have at having a prayer at survival.  Sadly many of our young adults are not ready for primetime–they have been set up to FAIL by previous teachers, and yes, their parents.

My dear friend Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser likes to preface sessions with “Truth or Sugar?” …and always the group says “TRUTH!” The reality is that the truth is a killer.  So while the truth that today’s young adults have been set up to fail in many ways is brutal, it is NOT the end result.  It is, however, the starting point!

So where do we go from here? UP! That’s where we go! And as we climb the ladder which seems to have no end in sight, no arrival point, no moment of “I’VE MADE IT!” we keep climbing because of this little thing called ‘faith.’

Perhaps a recap of yesterday will help with understanding where all this is coming from this evening:

The derailment began when the band buses were not only late but apparently the drivers did not know they needed to bring the band to the stadium BEFORE the game…we’ve used this company since BEFORE I was director. Then I got a text that the pit equipment truck battery was dead and they were waiting for it to be jumped. Then I called Motor Pool to find out that they were waiting for me to tell them to go to the CFA to jump start the battery even after they had been called by my GA 20 minutes earlier. Then everyone EXCEPT the trumpet section arrived at the practice fields–still short 1 bus. Then the pit truck arrived during warmups so we changed up the entire practice schedule and did Pregame first.  All of this occurred in the span of ONE HOUR!.

Next we finally get the pit fired up (literally–we be electric now!!  All mic-ed up and putting out decibels!!) and start to rehearse the Overture. 15 minutes later—evacuate to the Field House due to storm cell with thunder and lightening.  Rehearsal over.

None of this would have been bad had it been any other time of year. However the last time we rehearsed with the pit was the last day of Band Camp 6 days ago. The rehearsal on Wednesday had us still on met and we did NOT “run-thru” any of the tunes except Overture–we were still breaking things down and running “chunks.” If you are following you have started to break out into a cold sweat because you know what all this means:  the first real run of Overture, Masquerade and the encore Malaguena would be under the proverbial gun DURING halftime!  No chunks; no met; 1 -2, GO!!!!!

And they did….and I finally calmed down.  Those of you who know me are aware that I get wired with nervous energy at the first game. I don’t want them to fail at anything. I don’t want them to go home thinking “we’re no good.” I don’t want them ever to feel embarrassed. Usually I am excited to see/hear what they do because I KNOW they are going to be incredible right out of the gate.  Last night was not one of those times.  Last night I was a nervous wreck. They weren’t ready; they didn’t have a single full rehearsal in 6 days; they had no idea what to do when the team scored; they had no idea how to get on and off the field. …and the list went on and on.  I was a virtual train wreck heading for the end of the line that was hovering over the edge of an abyss.

(ok…perhaps a tad melodramatic….or not.  I was a mess!)

And then they played the first note of the Overture after the auctioneer narration and the music box…and I giggled.

And then they played the final crescendo…and I chuckled.

And then they played Letter O of Masquerade…and I outright laughed.

And then they unloaded Malaguena…and I wished I had a horn so I could join the soloists on the sideline.

And then….postgame was even better.

Have a little faith.  I didn’t yesterday. I had lost most of it. I was caught up in the insanity and lost sight of faith: faith in the one thing that has always been a constant for me—this band pulling up their boots by the bootstraps and ‘figuring it out.’

It was always there…I just couldn’t see it at first because I wasn’t looking hard enough….

It was the spring of 1995 and it was just another job. That’s right: A JOB. For after all, what is being a band director at a major university: nothing more than a paycheck. Right? …not even close.

I did not know then that I would spend the rest of my life in Delaware. At the time I considered it as another job that might lead somewhere else one day. Frankly I was never one who looked farther down the road than 10 feet. When it came to work, I lived in the proverbial moment. (Not so much with the rest of my life but that is neither here nor there.) The University of Delaware hired me to be their marching band director and that was that–time to get “at it.”

21 years later I find myself still here. Many life events have occurred: I lost both parents, a few pets, and an enormous amount of dear friends and loved ones. I bought and remodeled a house. I have been through a ridiculous amount of cars. My knees and hips have either been rebuilt, replaced or on the brink of one or the other. …we will NOT discuss my shoulders…

Regardless of all that, I consider Delaware my home. Sure I’m a north Jersey broad that marched drum corps (Go Bucs!) and can still drive like I own the road, but my home and heart has taken up residence in a small state that is nothing to be messed with.

Tomorrow night the one “thing” I love more than perhaps anything in the world will come to life on a football field. 350 college students will don uniforms, carry instruments and give up their hearts and souls for 15 minutes during halftime at a football game and again for a tad longer post-game. This “thing” keeps me going year after year. I would be a liar if I didn’t say it gets a bit more difficult each summer to summon up the energy, the creative power to write a show, the ability to push physical pain and limitation away and “be in it with them” again. But somehow, some way I manage.  I have to because they expect nothing less.

This “thing” will once again remind me how much I love what I do, how grateful I am to have A JOB that I love each and every day, how lucky I am to be able to give to others what was once given to me. To strive for excellence, to achieve goals only dreamed of, to push beyond self-inflicted personal limitations, to look into the faces of those who do not understand and smile thinking “they have no idea what a joy my world truly is.”

It’s called college marching band.  It is a world that cannot be explained–just accept it as something greater than yourself. Being Santa is hard work…not so sure I would have it any other way…

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.