Why I’m the Band Director

I was a 10 year old tomboy. My chestnut hair was cut short around my shoulders. Unruly waves that fell and flew wherever they willed themselves.I had a tan of freckles across my nose and cheeks, and wore shirts that were two sizes too big.I rode my bmx bike to school every morning that the ground wasn’t frozen, stopping on the way back home to say hello to the horses that ate the tall grass in that pasture on Flat Creek. I was bitten by one on the side one day after I had offered it a clump of the good, green grass from the sidewalk. I didn’t stop to say hello for a few months after that.

It was the end of my 4th grade of school at Jackson Hole Elementary. My first completed year in this new town. The spring of 1988, right before the summer fires in Yellowstone that have still marked the park in slow healing scars. The girl from Arkansas had only a few friends – the boys that lived on the same street and rode bikes, played war, Super Mario, and matchbox cars in the homemade dirt tracks on the side of the road. A man came to our class one afternoon and left a simple lined sheet of paper by the door. A sign-up sheet if we were interested in being a member of the band in 5th grade. Write down your name, and put two choices for instruments.

Well, I didn’t know anything about band. How was I supposed to know what a flute or a trumpet or a clarinet was? Sure I wanna do it! What did Brent put down? Brent is my buddy, I’ll do what he is doing! Trumpet and Trombone? Sounds good, let’s go with that.

And that is how it began. I went into a little room and sat in front of Mr. Winston Blackford and he tried me out on trumpet and trombone. I became a trombone player. Although, I don’t really know how, seeing as how I distinctly remember not being able to make a good buzz with my lips. Trombone players are made from kids that can’t do anything else and have big lips. That was me.

5th grade was spent at the bottom of the section. I wasn’t a strong beginner. The only thing I had going for me is that I could play LOUD. Mr. Blackford liked to tease all the boys in the trombone section and tell them they were all getting whooped by a girl. I liked that. Then I figured out what I was doing. And I practiced. I got first chair, and I never looked back.

The band room became my sanctuary, my oasis. It was the place where my parents weren’t divorced. It was the place where I wasn’t the invisible little sister to my sisters, and I wasn’t the annoying “fat cow” to my brother. It was the place were I belonged, where I succeeded, and where I was needed. It was the place where I felt like I didn’t have to disappear. Depression and suicidal thoughts always dissolved when I walked into that room.

Mr. Blackford was my hero when I needed a hero. He believed in me, encouraged me, and only pointed out the good things that I contributed to the world around me. He gave me the ultimate hope when he said that I was good enough to get a scholarship one day. I was in seventh grade and we were walking around the track outside. It may have been the singular reason I started walking with my chin up, not staring at the ground in hope of invisibility.

I was good at something. I was good at music, and it gave me hope.

My mother and I moved from Wyoming to Louisiana the summer before my sophomore year in high school. Before I met any kids my age at my new school, West Ouachita, I met my new band director. Mr. Dale Liner was at the school the day I went to register. He came to meet me, dressed in shorts and a Louisiana All-Star Band tshirt and a smile. He shook my hand and laughed, saying that he knew I was coming (that’s a different story for a different time). I instantly felt welcomed and wanted. I had a home in the band room before I stepped the first foot inside.

I was a different kind of band kid for this southern town. I wore socks with my tevas and crazy vests and still had uncontrollable hair. But still, I made friends quickly. A group of misfits that had a love for the band room and unwavering respect for the director quickly accepted me as one of their own. They were my best friends. They still are my best friends. This is what you find in the band room.

Being drum major my senior year was a natural position for me to take on. I loved being in front of the group and taking as much of the load from Mr. Liner as he was willing to give. Once again, I had a director that believed in me – having more faith in me than I had in myself. I found out who I was on that podium. My weaknesses came to the forefront so I could face and conquer them, but more importantly, my strengths were highlighted for the first time in my life.

I was put on this earth to lead.

Fernando Jimenez came to the school one day and asked me to play for him. He was a strange man with an accent that was hard to understand, but we communicated through music. He listened to me play. He believed in me. He offered me the scholarship I was told I could achieve so many years before by my first teacher. It felt so natural, like this was the path that was set out for me. I went to Louisiana Tech and became a music education major.

I will be the first to tell you that I am not a great musician. My ear struggles to hear correct pitch and I could never just play a tune in my head without the music in front of me. I am not a natural musician. I have struggled with being a “good player” my entire career. I didn’t become a band director because I am a good musician. I became a band director because band was what saved me.

Music is what saved me.

I do not force excellence out of my students, but we still achieve it. I have faith that they can do what they don’t believe they can do. We have fun. We push beyond their perceived limitations. I see their faces light up when they go above and beyond and succeed at something for the first time in their young lives. I let them laugh at me. I let them know I expect their best. I see them come to my class with a smile when they have no other single thing to be happy about in their life.

I see them being saved by the music.

And that is why I am the band director.

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39 Responses to Why I’m the Band Director

  1. Amber Moore says:

    =) and this is why you are one of my heroes. Thank you once again for sharing your love for music with the world and the many ways you help students have a sweet escape by giving them something to have confidence in. The band room and stage has always been a safe Haven for me ever since I was a little seventh grade kid having the same feelings and wanting to give up on everything.
    You were the first one to believe in me and tell me I made them proud. That is one of the main reasons I am now finishing out my last few semesters as a music education major and want to one day teach,perform, and be a music therapist. All because one amazing band director wrote in my year book eight years ago saying “You will be INCREDIBLE in whatever you choose to do.” You are oh so wise and I am so thankful for you. Encouraging words such as “Know who you are. Know what you want from your life. Know what you want to be, to do, to Love…and Do it. You are strong enough.” has helped mold into the young woman I am today. You are a blessing and inspiration! Love ya!

  2. The Brother says:

    You’re never going to let it go, are you?

    Thank you for the lovely story. It is very moving to hear the past through your eyes and know more about your life. Thank you for sharing it. I am just sorry I am the villain in it.

  3. Robert Freeman says:

    Wow. What an incredible testimony. I can relate so well to much of what you experienced. Thank you for sharing. If you don’t mind, I’m
    Going to share this as well

  4. Anne Lord says:

    Where can I purchase your memoir? Not published yet? Not written yet? Seriously. GET ON THAT. Your voice is calm and cool and flowing. The world needs it in long form. Write it out. I’d love it and devour it and it would feed my soul. I’m sure of it.

  5. Lisa says:

    Well said, Juli. I have always admired your strength–and your talent. I am awed by the ability you have to make such a difference in people’s lives. You are awesome!

  6. jlweathersby says:

    Love, love, love it Jules. You have to read my blog too. Love ya

  7. jlweathersby says:

    Love, love, love it Jules, you gotta read my blogs now

  8. Michelle says:

    I’ve never met you, someone posted this on Facebook. Have a feeling it’s about to go viral in the band director/band geek (I am a proud one) world. Your story could be mine, and so many others. You tell it so beautifully – thank you. There is a strange truth – a band kid is a band kid – no matter where you go, or how old you are. πŸ™‚

  9. maxpkil says:

    My son,a band director,posted your story…tears streamed my face as I read..I could see my son and his students over the many years…yes the ‘comfort’ of the bandroom and all the support and grounding that it offers…TY 4 taking the time to share…..a proud Mom of a band director…

  10. I loved reading your story. You are a true teacher, because you can relate to your students and to your music through your heart. I am also one “saved” by music by the grace of having a wonderful teacher.

  11. Jan Rice says:

    Win Blackford inspired many student at Flushing High School and is still a inspiration in their adult lives.

  12. Amanda says:

    Thank you for sharing this! I am a band director too, and although some of the details are different, I can relate to so many things you say. This actually makes me tear up- it’s that close to home. Thank you again for sharing!

  13. Eddie says:

    What a wonderful story. Your story mirrors the lives of so many of us band directors, and you say it so eloquently. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  14. Gray Weaver says:

    You did an awesome job expressing what we all feel as band directors! Another colleague shared your story on his Facebook page. It truly touched me and reminded me of my past directors who greatly influenced my life and directed me into such a rewarding career. Thanks for sharing it with the world and for helping to keep us band directors focused on what is important! I’ve got to share it on Facebook now!

    Gray Weaver
    Milton High School
    Milton, FL

  15. Great entry, young lady. It just verifies what I say to young people, college and high school age, over and over every year: It is NOT about where you came from – It’s where you believe you can go that counts! Best wishes for continued success as another “hero band director”.

  16. Valerie Gaertner says:

    Oh my gosh!!!! Reading this absolutely sent chills down my spine and all over. I was sooooo lucky to know Winston Blackford. He was the band director at Flushing Senior High when I first joined. My sister was in the Marching Band and had great experiences so therefore I joined too! Winston Blackford left Flushing in my freshman year. Even in the short time I knew him I have very good memories of him. He left us though in great hands and we went on to win a national championship. All the staff were absolutely incredible people. I am now 49 years old and still enjoying those connections. I would love to be able to connect with him and tell him personally! I enjoyed reading this… and you are very blessed!

  17. Carl says:

    What a great story that every school board member, superintendent, principal, and especially guidance people need to read! Will share with my college students this fall! Thank you for sharing!

  18. cincoboys says:

    Great post. I found it through a mutual friend on facebook. My dad was a band teacher and when he passed I heard countless stories of how band saved so many other people. Thanks so much for sharing.

  19. Allen Buffington says:

    I worked with Mr. Dale Liner and his brother. Both fine gentlemen. I will have to pass this on to Dale.

  20. Jean Burchfield says:

    Very nice story and one that could be repeated by many. I didn’t become a director but a very proud mother of one. Yet I can identify with your story. The elective courses and the teachers “save” many children. May God continue to bless and use you.

  21. Rene Eilande says:

    thanks for your lovely blog. It found its way to me thru Facebook. I too was a band geek from 7th grade on thru high school and was blessed to have the same two fabulous teachers and musicians all six years. They became good family friends, played my wedding.. and I still stay in touch. The most important and meaningful things I learned in all those years.. didn’t come from a biology teacher or an English teacher.. it came from them. Lessons far beyond music.. but for life itself. Ones I still use today. I just forwarded this to both of them!
    BUt even more importantly. I am sending this to my two daughters band teacher. I have had one daughter that was so close to the brink last year battling bullying, mean girls, which led to depression and self destructive thoughts. THis teacher made a HUGE difference. She is a large part of why we kept her in this school for her next two years. She cares, she loves and is the one adult my daughter would turn to at school. She makes a difference. A HUGE one. Not only is she a wonderful music teacher.. but she has gone so far beyond that. She has spent countless time talking to my daughter.. building her up. Sometimes protecting her by giving her a place to go to get away from mean words. Believing in her.
    This year is already so much better and I am thankful every day for the time she gets to spend with Ms. Moore. When all is said and done, this is what I hope she carries with her from middle school. I wish all teachers were like her!

    • Wow, thanks Rene. The band director’s blog hit many similarities of me in the 7th grade. I was short, skinny (boy I’ve made up for that in my old age), picked on, bullied, etc. Taking band gave me the safe haven your director’s band room gives to your daughter. I was never the great player, just good enough to fool most folks. When I made all-state in the 8th grade I went to the University of Alabama band concert in the old Foster auditorium. It was good. At the end of the of the concert they played Yea Alabama and Dixie. I looked at my band director and told him that I was coming to Alabama and be a band director. And the rest is history. I am so glad that Stacy and I provided all our band students the opportunity to belong and be part of the Aggie Band family. I cherish the memories. Thank you so much for providing this blog. It made my day. God Bless. rsk

  22. Bobbi Bergeron says:

    My daughter’s oboe teacher sent me a link to this blog after I was telling her about my son’s week at Band Camp this first week before his freshman year in high school next week.
    I am so happy both of my children are in band. That warm and wonderfully accepting group. . . . I can’t think about it without shedding happy tears.
    Your experiences struck a chord in me, no pun intended. As seventh of seven children, my parents weren’t exactly encouraging when it came to things like band. I vowed that I would introduce it to my kids, gently nudging them toward it. Both have thrived through it, because of it. . . . My daughter was the recipient of free lessons and an oboe through the Concord Community Music School and a grant they received from the Mr. Holland’s Opus foundation. Her middle school band leaders saw something in her, and chose her as one of the three grantees. Maybe the fact that she hunted down the Songs of Zelda on the internet for her flute and commanded their attention while she jammed them out beautifully. Link would have been proud. Or maybe it is that she was the first kid playing and the kid still playing when the bell rang at the end of the class. Whatever it was, it was the kind of gift that you just can’t put a value on.
    Music in our schools, in our communities, in our lives. . . . it needs to continue.
    Thank you.

  23. blessmyheart says:

    I’m kind of speechless, and definitely humbled, by the amount this little blog has been shared these past few days. Thank you all for these wonderful comments. Just confirmation on how wonderful the band family is.. all over the world. Thanks again!

  24. Janet says:

    What a nicely written & touching piece. I was a band kid more than 40 years ago. My best HS memories are from band. I didn’t pursue music professionally but several of my band members did and one of them shared your blog on Facebook. We recently had a great reunion with our director. I wouldn’t take anything for my band days!

  25. Valerie Gaertner says:

    It was so well written and very heartfelt! We had the most incredible experiences as a group! We were like family. We traveled together etc. We practiced just about every day after school. I remember eating sandwiches for dinner alot of the times. We were very dedicated. I remember being gone from 6am til 9:30 at night. I would fall asleep in a chair at home with my band jacket still on!
    There are several videos on Youtube of us. One was a video when we were at the MBA nationals in Whitewater Wi. We won nationals that year. We were all in shock! We later went to Jacksonville Fla and almost won again. Those were both very incredible experiences that we’ll always have. I was able to show my father, who is 82 now, for the first time those two videos. He watched in amazement! He was so tickled! I was so glad I could show them to him. The best part is my stepbrothers son is now the Drum Major in the very band I was in 30 years later. Just a few months ago when visiting my father….I took my own daughter down the halls of the Flushing Senior High and headed to the band room. It was locked, which was disappointing, I wanted to look at the trophies and accomplishments we had made. I remember shortly after Winston Blackford left he came back once as a consultant. A few of us knew him. He was standing high in the stands…..it was getting dark…..and all we could see was a dark outline of him and he was trying to fix something…and of course he didn’t know everyones name and he was getting frustrated. Suddenly….out of the darkness he yelled…..Hey you…..you in the orange jacket…….of course we all had orange jackets! We laughed about that for a long time! I never actually played an instrument. I was in the colorgaurd. But….we were all one happy group! It was just incredible! Thanks for writing this. I had my daughter read this….she’s just starting her freshman year in high school. I just want to remind her….that there is somewhere you belong and are welcomed with open arms.

  26. Tiana Russ says:

    That was such a touching story. I’m a tuba player in a high school band. You just gave me a whole different perspective on band. It gave me the courage that I can do anything I set my mind to. That story changed my life forever. Thank you so much.

  27. Tina Larson Walker says:

    I have tears in my eyes. This is such an inspiring story. Thank you to my dear old band geek friend Wendy for sharing this with me. I can’t wait for my husband to read this because he to is a band director and can relate to her struggles as a child. Amazing gal!! God Bless her always!!:)

  28. Tina Harry Kasimer says:

    I too was a student of Mr. Blackford. The stories are endless of course, and I am sure that so many “bandsies” share similar ones, whether or not they have ever met.

  29. Laura Horm says:

    Awesome right on

  30. Cliff says:

    My daughter is now entering her senior year in the color guard. As the Gibson Southern Marching Titans’ ‘official photographer’ I have spent the past three years blending into the background of countless practices, warm-ups and competitions. Because of my daughter’s dedication to her sport I have been blessed to photograph three state championships (with confidence of a fourth in October) and I can tell you I have seen exactly what you are saying over and over. These kids work with the same teamwork that any athletic team at school does.

  31. Philip Gregory says:

    What a great testimony! I’m a band director too, in middle Tennessee, and I so enjoyed your blog. Prayers and blessings to you, Juli!

  32. Melanie L Ball says:

    Enjoyed reading your story. It brought tears to my eyes. I was never in band but my husband was and now my daughter, now a freshman, is enjoying her first year of marching band. I see daily how much it has brought her out of her shell. And I truly think being in band saved my sister many years ago. The school district my children attend is facing laying off teachers due to budget cuts. The first teachers to go will be the high school elective teachers. How many students will not find their Mr. Blackford or Mr. Liner. Keep on doing what you do. You are needed.

  33. Bruce in Louisville says:

    I have to say, I don’t appreciate blog posts that make me cry on a Sunday night. πŸ˜‰

    I was a high-school band director for six years, four at a small school in Tennessee and two at a much bigger and more-traditioned school in Kentucky. When I read your post, I was back in elementary school, signing up for tuba because that’s what my dad played. I was back in high school, making amazing music and being part of something special. I was at my first rehearsal in that small school in Tennessee, realizing that I was going to have to schedule my after-school rehearsals around cow-milking time. And I was in that last year of that career, leaving to go to seminary but missing the joy, the LIFE of band.

    I miss it still. I have continued to do music ever since, both in church and in the community. There is really nothing like the school band experience, though. It is a special, special thing, and you have captured so much of that in your post.

    Thank you for writing. From one writer to another — keep it up.

  34. Pingback: Waiting « Bless My Heart

  35. Keith D. Behme says:

    I remember sitting in Flushing High School Wind Ensemble reheasal one fall morning in 1974. Before we started to rehearse, Mr. Blackford read some letters that was in his mailbox. One was a letter about auditions for Central Michigan University’s music school. Like most kids living in Genesee County, MI during the mid-70’s, I figured that I’d apply for a job w/one of the many GM factories and make the big bucks. When he asked if anybody was interested, I raised my hand. A certain classmate who will remain nameless at this time, but was well known for his boisterously loud voice, crowed “He thinks he’s so great & cool now that he’s learning how to play electric bass” and scoffed at me. I remembered how in 2nd grade when all the other kids were drawing pictures of flying in the Air Force, joining the Marines, being a Soldier or a Sailor, etc. when they grow up. I drew a picture of 4 musicians playing on a lighted stage and told everybody “I want to be a Beatle”, which drew a lot of laughs. I was happiest whenever I played music, but wasn’t really prepared who the road that lied ahead by spending “woodshed time” or “paying my dues” terms I later learned. It was rough, I was rejected at Central & Michigan, so attended Mott Community College in Flint. After 2 years of “practice, practice, practice”, I reauditioned to transfer at Central Michigan, Western Michigan & the University of Michigan. I passed at all three this time. Central Michigan assistant band director Jack Saunders was on the audition panel and was a close friend of Mr. Blackford & the FRMB. He ran down the steps to catch me before I started to drive home to tell me I passed & he hoped I would enroll. I still had the Michigan audition coming up & wanted badly to study with Abe Torchinsky and told him if I was accepted, I would go there.

    After getting my degree in Music Ed. w/distinction, I stayed in the Flint area and held a long-term substitute teaching for an elementary instrumental music teacher as well as other music classes, etc. for a few years before settling down, enlisting in the Army Bands, then transferred to the Navy Bands after that 3 year stint until I was medically discharged. I also held the principal tuba chair in the Lawton, OK Philharmonic Orchestra while in the Army and my last long-term job was being the instrument tester at the Frank Holton Company Band Instrument Company the last 9 and 1/2 years that factory was operating, playing all the french horns, flugelhorns, trombones, tubas & sousaphones we produced before they were shipped. I tank Mr. Blackford for teaching me the self-discipline I later used in college & the military for being the musician I am today, & BTW, that loudmouth back in Flushing High School that played Baritone Saxophone & is now working as an accountant: Check out my profile on Facebook to see all I’ve done since high school!!!

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