Things I Learned From My High School Band Director

You jocks may seek to argue with me, but the class that taught me the most in high school was not Geometry, Chemistry, or even English (though that was my first love). The thing that taught me the most, the things I remember and use even now, was band and it was mostly due to one person. Mr. Johnson.

First, perhaps I should explain something to those of you who may live outside of Texas. There is one thing that rules high school: football. Football and all things related. High School band, whatever it was where you lived, is serious business in Texas. We practiced as much, and often more, than the football team. We received more standing ovations than our team did and they went to the playoffs almost every year. We gave sweat and tears to our field. You have to love something a heck of a lot to practice it in 100 degree heat on an asphalt lot.

So band was not something we just did. It was something we breathed in High School.

Mr. Johnson shepherded us from a fairly crappy band into something great. A band that won awards nationally. It was amazing to be a part of that transformation. Mr. Johnson taught me some lessons I will never forget.

Mr. J taught me how to win. He taught me that winning was hard work involving hours of toil, sometimes heartache, for one shiny moment. I learned that in order to be good, I also had to be on a good team. To be on a good team, I had to help people around me be better. In band, you are only as good as your worst player, and to be really great, you have to lift up those around you and be willing to learn from others. Teamwork was winning together.

Mr. J also taught me how to lose. One year, we went to a competition and gave it everything. We were, in our minds, far and above, finally good enough to break into the top ten finalists. We knew it. Felt it. But when the results came down and we had failed, according to the judges, I was angry, incensed. Mr. J though, he said he was proud of us. That we had never been better. That we had done our best and THAT was the best part of the day. Then, I only felt bitterness at something denied, but now, with years behind that memory, I know that I learned that day how to accept failure when your best is not good enough. Mr. Johnson taught me to be humble and feel blessed by my opportunities, regardless of the outcomes. I did not appreciate it then, but I surely do now.

Mr. J also taught me that adults in my life truly cared about me. He did, truly, deeply care about his students. I will never forget the day I sorely disappointed him in a way I have never disappointed another adult growing up. I still think about that day and I hope he knows that it was the folly of youth that made me reckless. Later, it was his anger that made me rethink my choices. What a fool is youth!

Lastly, the most important thing I learned: how to fold pants properly. This may seem frivolous, but I assure you, it is not. As a girl, I did not have occasion to fold dress pants as a kid. Why would I when I could so much better show off in a skirt? In band, the seam on your pants is critical. It is a uniform because you are all supposed to be uniform. A wrinkled uniform, an unruly plume, a step out of line, these are all things you strive to banish. For the first few weeks every year, Mr. J would patiently stand up at the front of the group and demonstrate how to fold pants.

Put the seams together at the cuffs. Tuck under your chin. Grab the seams farther down the pants, towards the waist, with your fingers and flip. Place carefully on the hanger and clip them in. All the while making sure the seams are all lined up.

I never fail to remember those demonstrations every time I fold pants. I also remember the “I don’t want to hear that you forgot ‘fill in the blank’ “ discussions we had every Friday before loading the buses. If you left something behind, it was your fault, your responsibility. And for those of you doubting, A missing “fill in the blank” let everyone down. Your failure impacted everyone.

Band made me a better person. The people I am still friends with in high school were all in band. Mr. Johnson taught me a lot about life. Things I never appreciated until I had some years past high school behind me. I am blessed that during that time in my life, I was shepherded by a caring and Christian man.

Mr. J has been directing bands for 27 years. He is retiring this year. I hope he knows that he is well loved and has impacted more lives than most of us could dare to hope for.

–Jane, Thank You Mr. Johnson for everything you do

3 thoughts on “Things I Learned From My High School Band Director

  • January 11, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    I hope that you print this out and send it, if not to Mr. Johnson, to the principal and superintendent of his school.

    I was not in band in High School. At the time, my school did not have one. I was, however, a Band Parent. For ten years. That is five years for each of my kids in Band. I helped create the inner-city high school’s band parent organization in my first tenure. They “made me” stay an extra year after the first one graduated. Then I came back, and, of course they had me for another five years.

    That band’s director used to say, “If it were not for band, I would be dead.” I know it was true, and part of why I did it was because I knew that it was true for some others in those bands.

    So, Michelle, remember this story in 12 or 13 years, when your now little one enters high school.

    And it is a great story, I love it!

  • January 12, 2010 at 10:40 am

    I sent the link on this morning. The party was a surprise, so I could not ruin it by sending on Friday!

    My mom has similar feelings about being a band parent. She was one for 9 years, all told. I think she missed band more than we did when we went to college!

    I am hoping the Bairn ends up in band. Mr. Rochester is still holding out for football. *eyeroll*

  • March 7, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    This is so great. I came across it on google, as I was trying to find a list of things that we learn in band, besides the musical lessons. It’s written beautifully, and the pants anecdote was delightful. I think about that every time I fold pants as well. 🙂 I went to high school in Houston, and am now a college student in Utah. Marching Band is so different outside of Texas, and people just don’t understand, do they?!

    Anyway, thank you for this breath of fresh air. I can completely relate to your sentiments. Congratulations to Mr. Johnson and his retirement! I’m sure he impacted many students throughout his fantastic run. 🙂

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