Yesterday, I shared three things that my high school band director told me that have stuck with me over the years. But I wasn’t done. There are three more things that I need to share…
“Don’t mess with the Star Spangled Banner.”
You march onto the field, play the song exactly the way the audience expects to hear it. Then you march off. No fluff. Nothing artsy about it.
He was right. He still is. Every time some pop sensation tries to do something cute with the national anthem, that person gets lit up on the social networks. In a different context, it could be considered ground-breaking (see: Jimi Hendrix), but we are a nation of traditions. And if you’re going to perform the national anthem before a game, you’re better off just performing the song the way it was written and getting out of the way. If not, you might find yourself on some Top Ten Worst National Anthem Performances list.
Whenever someone messes with the national anthem, I just shake my head. “Mr. Briel was right,” I say to myself. “They should’ve listened to him.”
Blind fish and a prediction about our offspring
Mr. Briel opened class one day with a story. It wasn’t entirely unusual that he would tell us a story, but this one was a little different. He started talking about fish. But these were just any fish. They were blind fish that are found in caves.
Then he started to discuss the scientific theory behind this phenomenon. Strange, I thought. I must have accidentally walked into biology lab instead of Concert Band. He explained that organisms adapt to their environment over time. Features that an organism needs in its environment continue to be strengthened. Other organs, like the eyes in the cave fish’s case, eventually phase out. Fish in a body of water in the middle of a cave don’t have any need for eyes, after all. There’s no light anyway. So over time, the fish just stopped growing eyes because they weren’t using them anyway.
Then he explained that the things an organism uses tend to be emphasized as their genetic makeup is passed on from generation to generation. At the same time, the things they don’t use tend to be minimized as an organism adapts over time. Sometimes, these features disappear altogether.
After giving us a brief scientific lecture, he paused and looked over the class.
“You know, I was thinking about this effect of passing along traits to our offspring as I was trying to figure out what happened during yesterday’s class. And I’ve come to this conclusion:
“Your kids are going to be born with no ears and really big mouths!”
You know, there are days when I think of this prediction and wonder if Mr. Briel might have had a touch of the gift of prophecy. Because…well…there are some days where it sure feels like he was absolutely right.
As they say, revenge is a dish best served cold. And I’ve had some pretty large helpings of that dish over the years.
“If you’ll switch to tuba, I’ll put you in Wind Ensemble.”
In 5th grade, I took up the trumpet. A cornet, to be specific. But that really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I was part of the trumpet section, so we’ll just say I was playing the trumpet.
Anyway, I started playing the trumpet in 5th grade. I played it all through middle school and even marched as a trumpet during my Freshman year of marching season. I was decent. But I definitely wasn’t great at trumpet. My trumpet skills were nothing to write home about.
At the end of 9th grade, Mr. Briel came up to me towards the end of class. He had a proposal for me. We didn’t have anyone lined up to play tuba the next year. So he asked me and two of my Freshman trumpet buddies if we’d consider switching from trumpet to tuba. To sweeten the deal, he said that he’d put us in Wind Ensemble – the highest level of band at our school – if we made the switch.
So I switched. And my musical career took off.
Because of a scheduling conflict, I was not enrolled in Wind Ensemble the following semester. I was disappointed, but it turned out to be a great thing. Since I was the only tuba playing in Concert Band, I couldn’t hide behind anyone else. I had to quickly learn how to play my new instrument and I had to learn how to play it with power.
So I did.
Not to toot my own horn (no pun intended…or maybe it is intended), but I got to be pretty darn good for a guy who didn’t start playing tuba until the 10th grade. I wound up on the All-City Honors Band for two years. I played in a large brass ensemble at the State Solo & Ensemble contest. I participated in TubaChristmas for several years. I performed in several church orchestras and brass ensembles. I even had a tuba solo in a jazz concert while at Milligan. Turned out it was my final instrumental performance ever.
I had a much better time playing tuba than I ever had while playing trumpet. And I have Mr. Briel to thank for that. Sure, he might have chosen me to play tuba simply because I was a pretty big guy and could handle carrying a giant brass instrument around. But that’s OK. I have no complaints. Because it still opened all kinds of doors for me.
And now I’m a bass line guy for life.
Mr. Briel impacted me in many ways. But this invitation to play the tuba? It was life-changing. And I cannot thank him enough for giving me that opportunity.