Posts Tagged ‘life lessons’

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!

Been a number of months since I’ve posted and, as it is with everyone else in the world life has certainly kept moving along.  Today I started the last summer workshop I share with Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser.  It is always a bittersweet weekend–we love hanging together, working with young adults, etc., but we both know this is the last stop before the world crashes in upon both of us and we split up for the next 10 months.

But that is for another post….

As I was teaching the first 45 minute block outside in the “land of heat and humidity” (My God it was like teaching in a steam room!!) I noticed a man standing off to the side just watching…and smiling. I knew instantly who it was and waited for the right moment to interject within my instructions “Is that Mr. Glen Rhine back there?” His smile filled his face, he nodded and bowed. At the first moment of “#3 teach clean everything I just taught you,” I went over to say hello to my old friend from my days in the Buccaneers.

Back then, in the 1980’s I watched a man spend all his time working on the small things: hand positions, guiding techniques, foot placement, horn angles, etc.  The nitty gritty of the activity. Back then I thought he was missing it–I thought he had no idea what he was talking about. We needed to work on the BIG stuff, not the fact that my index finger wasn’t exactly next to my middle finger. Who cares about that? No one can tell!

Oh what I didn’t know! Oh if I knew then what I know now!!!  Success is in the details–the nitty gritty details.  Sure the band is loud but the trumpets don’t stand at attention the same way. They look sloppy.  Fix that, add the sound and BOOM!  Greatness!!  …if only it were that simply, but I know you get the point.

Glen and I had lunch together for the first time in 30 years. What a great hour it was to catch up with him, to hear he’s still out there teching high school bands, to hear that he’s even more passionate about not just fixing the nitty gritty but in teaching the students WHY and HOW–not just WHAT!  He sat there and he told me about how much he has learned since taking yoga and how it has helped him to break down and analyze backward marching–how each and every muscle in the foot needs to do certain things in order for the backward initiation to occur.

I sat there in amazement and joy as I listened to a 66 year old man speak with such passion about teaching high school band kids how to march.  And there was the lesson: He said,

“Heidi, at our age we don’t NEED to be doing this! We do it because we WANT to.”

Do I NEED to be out there with sweat running down my entire body as if I was standing in a shower? No.

Do I NEED to be out there not only in the heat, but the rain, the cold temperatures, and even snow, jumping up and down like a crazed person trying to get a college marching band to wake up and put out some energy. No.

I do not NEED to do any of those things….I WANT to do them.   Thank you Glen.

 

A few days ago I drove — yes, me! — I drove up to NYU for my post op appointment with my surgeon, Dr. Patrick A. Meere.  Just four weeks and five days since a second hip replacement and I was driving in complete comfort!  For whatever reason this time around things have been going along much easier. There is much less pain–in comparison to last winter there is virtually none. Progress is faster than I could have imagined–already sitting on the spin cycle at the HAC a few times each week….not long sessions mind you but spinning nonetheless.

The only issue is stamina….in that I have none. This is to be expected after (yet again another) major surgery. No matter how good I feel, the body is on its own healing schedule and there is nothing I can do to speed that up.

The journey–it has not been an easy one. The revolving wheel of deterioration-surgery-recovery-“feel awesome”-deterioration… it got old a long time ago. The journey is not just one of the physical however. It is also one that is mentally driven and emotionally challenging. It has also opened a window into the very fiber of my being that has allowed me to realize just how much I truly can take. Each time as I’ve gazed through this window I’ve seen much more than I expected: not just my true sense of strength and resilience, but how all of it is connected with the people who have traveled this path with me.

Many times I have quoted the first two stanzas of Rudyard Kipling’s The Law of the Jungle. There is no question that I have learned more about letting the pack be my strength these last few years than any other time in my life. The pack has taught me to ask for help when I need it and to do nothing more in return than say “thank you.”

The future–let’s see…picture if you will a relatively small physician’s office. We’re talking the size of my living room folks. After you are asked to walk out of the exam room toward the door so your gait can be assessed, you turn and stop. To your delight you see a massive smile on your surgeon’s face. He asks, “How long now?” You respond, “”Four weeks and five days.” He shakes his head in disbelief and says,

Let’s go look at joint #4.”

…not funny.  I mean seriously, this is getting way out of hand!

Fortunately joint #4 is not too bad yet and I should be able to keep the addition of more titanium to my body at bay for a while…..I’m hoping a few years…..my surgeon said nothing….

Oh…..Meere has taken the lead.

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!

Tomorrow is Homecoming at UD. There’s a buzz on campus for the first time in many years–a buzz that has students GLAD they are part of this campus. A buzz that feeds school spirit and one that makes just being on the grounds feel like HOME.  It takes an enormous effort to put together all the various events that take place on Homecoming–efforts that tend to go unacknowledged.  So let me take just a moment to thank the folks all over campus who have “stepped up their game” and made Homecoming something to look forward to as opposed to being a chore!!

With that said, the role of the band is multifaceted when it comes to game day. Preparation is pretty nuts frankly. Gotta get a new show out and make sure the old show is ready for postgame–toughest audience of the season: the UDMB alumni! They WANT to be wowed….(and in all humility I can say without any hesitation that “wowed” they will be tomorrow.) The band will have a shortened rehearsal at the ungodly hour of 730am in order to rehearsal with the Alumni Band at 830am. Then the Team Walk, then a quick “lunch,” then a performance inside the BOB at the President’s Reception.  After that we try (hope and pray) there is enough time to do the traditional concert in the Gold VIP lot. Then it’s clock work: west concourse parade and pregame.  All of that takes place between 9:30 – 11:45am.

…coffee…LOTS AND LOTS OF COFFEE will be required!

With all the insanity of Homecoming there are a few moments, albeit moments that are brief, that I cherish each year:

  • seeing the alumni from years past (this year we have folks from 1961 on the field!);
  • seeing their families (so many tuba mutes!  er, I mean, children!!);
  • seeing the multigenerational UDMB families on the field during “In My Life;”
  • watching the “old timers” mingle with the “baby band;”
  • smiling, laughing and knowing what it’s like to break the horn out again and trying to recapture your youth and relive those memories of entertaining the fans in UD stadium;

But most of all…I LOVE the stories! Each and every one of them begins with “Remember when…”

Tomorrow will be my 21st Homecoming at UD. I look forward to many, many more in the future. I know “the world did not begin with me” and that there were years and years of Homecomings that occurred long before I ever set foot on this campus. It is those stories I long to hear each year–the ones that happened prior to 1995. It is those stories I want the current band members to hear (albeit with an understanding that the world was very different back then!!). And the reason is so very simple:

You need to know where you came from in order to know where you’re going.

Welcome home alumni—we’ve missed you.

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…