Last weekend I had the opportunity to go to a retirement event for my high school band director. Band was huge at my high school. We had student officers and dance royalty who did band. I even knew cheerleaders who gave up cheerleading to do band or color guard. It has one of the most successful band programs in the state. A huge part of this is because of a motivated, dedicated and loving band director.
Over the last week I’ve been thinking about my time in marching band. I think about it often—yes even seventeen years later! I can still say it was one of the best experiences of my life. Besides being able to play and be a part of some amazing music, which was food to my soul, I met some of my best friends from band. One of the most valuable experiences I gained, however, was leadership skills.
I had never really been in a leadership position before, other than as a president in my Young Women’s class at church when I was twelve or thirteen. I had always been a shy, quiet person. As I got into high school I didn’t want to be that person anymore because I didn’t feel as though it was me anymore, yet I could never find the courage to break out of the mold that I felt others had formed for me. I had to live up to other’s expectations of who I was. I thought I had qualities that would make me a good leader, but I wasn’t sure how to, or if I ever did, show it. I was a fairly good flute player, not the best, but good, but that wasn’t necessarily enough to be a section leader, which was something I wanted so badly my senior year of high school.
When it came time to vote for section leaders as I approached that last year of high school I was afraid people would only see my mental illness instead of seeing me—that they would see it as a hinderance and something that made me not good enough. I guess I forgot what amazing people they were because they were able to see past it, they did see me, and I was voted as section leader.
What an amazing experience it was! I came to love each of those girls—yes, I had twenty-nine girls under me! However, the band director and I sometimes had our differences. Part way through the competition season I became upset about a decision he made. Without going into the whole long story, I pretty much defied him and rebelled against what I was supposed to do. I was this hippie-like character after all!
Obviously I ended up getting into a lot of trouble for it. As the band director was discussing my discipline he suggested taking me out as section leader and putting someone else in. The thought was devastating. He asked me what I thought about that. “Well, you have to do what you have to do,” I said, “but I will tell you that (said person) isn’t a good leader.” He thought for a second, laughed then told me, “You’re right. She’s not. I’m not going to do that.”
I did end up having to explain to the band that afternoon at rehearsal what had happened and apologize, which was extremely embarrassing, but I got to stay in as section leader. Knowing that he had that kind of faith in me, despite the fact that I had messed up, meant so much to me. It still means so much to me. And it has become an incredible life lesson as well.
I can use this as it applies to parenting. When a child does something wrong, it’s okay to reprimand and discipline, but it’s also important to let them know you still love them and have faith in them. Let them know that even though you are disappointed they did the wrong thing you know they are still good and of worth and can do better.
I can use this when looking at mental illness. Sometimes we have setbacks, but that doesn’t mean we have failed and need to be completely devastated. Awhile ago I had a very low point in my life. I had lost all hope. But guess what? I got it back. I kept going, I kept trying, and I got it back. Just because I hit rock bottom didn’t mean that was the end. I had to have faith in myself. And I did. I picked myself up and tried again. And right now I’m in an incredibly good place mentally, emotionally and physically.
I’m so grateful for a band director who was able to see past my deficiencies and continue to let me grow and develop and do something that meant the world to me. And I’m grateful for the lesson it taught me, that I’m still gleaning from.