I am a high school band director, and I love my job!
Don’t get me wrong; there are many headaches—both literal and figurative—associated with having 50 or so teenagers in a room, all armed with noisemakers. But the rewards of this job far outweigh the costs.
As a high school band director, I have the privilege of working with some of the hardest working, committed, self-motivated students at my school. My opinion may be somewhat biased, but these students defy many of the stereotypes associated with teenagers. I often get to have these students for all four years of their high school career, and I get to witness their transformation and growth over the years, from uncertain adolescent to young adults. During this time, I get to form relationships with the parents of band members, many of whom spend hundreds of hours of their lives volunteering on behalf of their children to help raise money, chaperone band trips, or prepare meals to be shared at band camp.
Concert Band is a class made up mostly of freshman. These young musicians came from a good middle school band where they learned a lot about how to interpret written music, how to breathe correctly, how to hold the instrument, and how to make a good sound. But most often these skills are not fully realized. Younger, less-experienced musicians like these can get so focused on playing their own part—on getting their fingers or tongue or lips to cooperate or on interpreting challenging bits of music—that they can spare very little attention on what is happening around them. In order to be a successful ensemble, individuals must be aware of more than their own music and instrument; they must be aware of those around them. A mature musician is constantly asking several questions: Am I in tune with my neighbor? Is my tone blending well with others? Am I playing the rhythms in time? Is my articulation the same? Wait, did the director just slow down the music?
Last week, I was rehearsing the Concert Band in preparation for an upcoming concert. “Keep your eyes up!” I called out while conducting. I often use these words as a reminder to my students to become more aware of the entire room, including the other musicians and, in particular, my conducting. Getting ones eyes out of the music stand does several things: The students can see the director’s conducting and play in time with his beat. They also become much more aware of the sounds being produced by their peers, which allows them to play better in harmony and balance with one another. It also lets me communicate with them using gestures to cue their entrance, to ask them to play softer or louder as needed, or to even let the tempo linger or push depending on what the music inspires.
As I said the words “keep your eyes up” last week, I was suddenly struck by the powerful metaphor in the activity of music making. Isn’t God our ultimate conductor? Are we not also, as the body of Christ, striving to be in harmony with one another? Must not each of us know who around us is currently the melody or perhaps when we ourselves are the melody?
Often, I find it all too easy to become absorbed in my own life, to focus on my own part, my own “sheet of music,” if you will. Perhaps, like my overenthusiastic alto saxophone players, I’ve ignored the fact that someone else around me has the melody and I need to play more of a support role. Or perhaps I’ve had my eyes glued to my own part and failed to notice God cueing me to speed up or slow down as he has directed.
Young musicians will improve their awareness beyond their own part as they become more comfortable with their own instruments, which itself is a result of disciplined individual practice. Along with the revelation I had last week, I also realized I will improve at “keeping my eyes up on God” with continued and refined practice of spiritual disciplines. Prayer. Reading Scripture. Listening to God’s words as he speaks through the world around me.
Many of you who have been in a music ensemble will know too how reassuring it is to get the conductor’s cue for your entrance. You may know how it feels to count your rests carefully, to be listening to those around you, and to be ready to take a breath and sing or play your note and—a moment before you enter—the conductor makes that eye contact with you and nods or smiles or gestures, and suddenly your entrance is just that much more confident and in tune than it would have been otherwise. I think many of you have also experienced those moments when you have been seeking a solution to a difficult time in your life and have at last taken it to God and seen, somehow, his direction opening up a clear path.
To me, one of the most potent visions of heaven and the realization of God’s kingdom is the one alluded to in final verse of “The Servant Song”:
When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born of all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony
I look forward to that bright and glorious future, where all God’s kingdom sings (or maybe plays instruments) in perfect harmony with one other under his direction!
O, Heavenly Father, please help me to keep my eyes on you! Please help me to be aware of those around me so I can be supportive of their melody or to sing out my melody with confidence when the time comes!
Jeremy Zander and his wife, Bethany, have been attending Newberg Friends for just over three years. Bethany is working toward her Doctorate of Psychology at George Fox University and Jeremy is a high school band teacher in Beaverton School District.