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.