I first met Jesus on a personal basis when I was 15 years old. Like many kids that age, I was incredibly sincere and very much wanted to do things “the right way.” I attended Sunday school, camp meeting, and Bible studies, and one teaching that stood out in my mind was that I needed to surrender my will to God. In my 15-year-old mind, somehow that translated to me being willing to let God send me to China, perhaps even where I would be riding on elephants. Never mind that there really aren’t that many elephants in China, and that elephants aren’t the preferred mode of transportation. But I told God that if he wanted me to go to China, I’d (gulp) go.
Now, what I do like to do is music. I’ve been a musician as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest recollections of traveling to family events include being with my dad’s cousins, aunts, and uncles “down on the farm” in Rainier. We’d get together for some sort of occasion and the food was plentiful and the music rollicked. Some might call the genre “country,” but in actuality it was hill music—bluegrass, blues, folk. Voices singing, accompanied by guitars, banjoes, piano, spoons, even a zither. Always a good time, with songs ranging from “Froggy Went A-Courting” to “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain.”
I got my first guitar when I was perhaps four or five—a small tenor guitar, with the strings tuned to the top four pitches of a standard instrument. Later on I took a few years of piano lessons and, along with everyone else in 5th grade, tried out for band. When asked what I wanted to play, my response was “drums!” and was told “no, no, girls don’t play drums. Girls play flutes and clarinets.” No, really. So I tried a clarinet for the requisite three months, and at the end of the trial period the music teacher said “Now, you sing, don’t you?” She then took the clarinet from me, assigned me to choir, and my career as a band member was over. Until it wasn’t.
When I was in 8th grade, I met Caren, a new friend who played a flute, and she convinced me I should try out for marching band. At first, I pooh-poohed the idea—after all, there is no such thing as a marching guitar! She was persistent, reminding me that I read piano music and therefore could play bells. As in, glockenspiel. Held vertically, with the end in a holster worn around the neck. Played with a single mallet. And so I joined the Newberg Summer Marching Band, just in time to go on tour to California with a group of baton twirlers from Portland; they performed intricate twirling maneuvers while we played their music. If I recall correctly, we played “Lady of Spain.” And our drum major was—wait for it—Steve Hockett.
At the end of the summer, the director (the revered Dick Elliott) invited me to sign up for band in high school, tempting me with the prospect of “shiny chimes,” as well as bells that did not have to be worn around my neck. And then, just a couple weeks into the fall semester, the tympani player dropped out of school and joined the Air Force. Tympanis are drums that are tuned to various pitches by a pedal at the base of each drum, and there were only a couple of us in the percussion section that could read bass clef. So Mr. Elliott handed me a set of tympani mallets and said “I guess you’re the tympanist now.” He apparently thought girls could play drums. Ha! And by the time I got to my final year of high school, I was in as many choir and band classes as I could fit in my schedule.
Fast forward to adulthood. As a high school social studies teacher, I was on staff at the same school where my daughters were enrolled. Both Liz and Eryn played clarinet and were involved with band, and I was part of the parent support group. When the girls were in 11th and 9th grade, the assistant band director was transferred to another school. The head of the band program knew I was a musician and offered me the assistant position, since I was already on staff and knew the program. The job entailed being in the band class one period per day and helping primarily with the fall field show group. Since my girls were in band, I asked them if they would be OK with me becoming part of the staff, and their caveat was that they didn’t want me to “act like Mom” during band time. Fair enough. So in the fall of 1992, I joined the Tigard High band program.
Over the past 25 years, my role as the assistant band director morphed into becoming the director of marching programs. Jim (the director of bands) runs the “sit-down” groups (jazz, concert, symphonic, wind ensemble, etc) and I coordinate the fall field show band and our winter marching groups—winter drumline, winter guard, and cadet (middle school) drumline—all extra-curricular programs outside the school day. Meanwhile, I teach economics in the social studies department all day, every day.
Over the years, I came to realize how seemingly random my music position is. After all, I was pretty satisfied being a singer and a guitarist and didn’t really have a burning desire to join band until Caren convinced me it would be fun. I attempted to study music education for a brief period but quickly realized that music teachers are incredibly gifted individuals who possess that unique combination of being excellent at music and having the patience and ability to break it down to simple, understandable concepts for beginners. I am not that type of musician. But I’m quite good at logistics, and I am very good at explaining social science concepts, so like the stereotypical math teacher who coaches football, I’m the social studies teacher who coaches marching band.
In a program like marching band, we get kids from all walks of life. Some come with supportive parents who provide quality instruments and private lessons. Some come with supportive parents who can’t afford quality instruments and private lessons, but they volunteer to work the Craft Fair, and basketball concessions, and the amazingly large Band Garage Sale, and all the rest of the endless fundraising we do. And some come with no support at all, and maybe no instruments, and maybe even no homes. And the wonderful thing about band is that we find a place for everyone. The girl who is living at the shelter and the boy who doesn’t have a way to wash his clothes are as much a part of the band as the girl who shows up with her own $8,000 bari sax. And sometimes, band is their safe place and music is their refuge. Those of us in charge become their steady adults, and we give them a place to express themselves and to achieve and to belong. They become our kids, and we help raise them. We teach them to work together, and to strive for excellence, and to develop the integrity to want to give their best. And they love each other, and we love them.
So my music position really isn’t random. At some point in my life I realized that God is kind and wise, and he puts folks into our lives that help shape us into the people that are the best fit for each of us, and the best fit for him to use. God has given me a love for music and a love for social science and a love for kids, and in his kindness has allowed me to minister through what I love most. It’s a strange combination, being a social scientist by day and band director by night. But it is so much better than riding elephants in China.