The orchestra members, all dressed in formal black suits, sit quietly, their instruments at the ready. They form a large half circle around the conductor like a colony of penguins at attention. The conductor raises his baton, bringing a hushed readiness. Then, after a pause, he sweeps his baton down. A cascade of music flows up and over the audience.
Our son sits on the far left of the stage, his nimble fingers bringing life to the clarinet. We proudly admire him. Unbidden, my mind wanders back some 25 years to Troutdale Elementary School.
It was 7 p.m. and we parents streamed through the double doors into the large room that served as both cafeteria and gym. Odors of each lingered strongly in the air. Tonight was band night and our fifth-graders were there to show their stuff for their admiring parents.
The young students milled excitedly, like lambs given their freedom. Several teachers waved their arms in a futile attempt to shepherd the flock toward their folding chairs. Meanwhile, we parents stacked ourselves like grocery store produce on the raised metal benches along one wall. Mrs. Adams, a teacher with the body of a battle tank and the voice of Minnie Mouse, squeaked public announcements into a microphone. It had all the trappings of a good county fair.
Mrs. Adams dramatically bounded to her place in front of the band. Apparently she had, in addition to her regular classroom duties, the job of teaching music to the young children. It wasn’t clear what sin brought her to this purgatory but she bore her burden with patience and grace. Stepping up onto a plastic step stool, she raised her baton toward the student band.
The young band members, who were chattering excitedly, missed her cue.
Mrs. Adams raised her voice: “Ah hum!” Then she decorously turned to us.
“Tonight our fine young musicians will perform a Sousa march. I know you will enjoy it. I am really proud of our band and I think you will discover they have a great deal of talent.”
Again she raised her baton. Several band members took that as a signal to blast out opening notes. The brass section, apparently feeling it had missed its cue, joined in.
Then there was mass panic among the remaining band members who began heaving notes in all directions. It may have been billed as Sousa but it had the tone and fidelity of a fox hunt. The drummer pounded furiously and the trombone player fired random blasts to the front. In the back row, a round-faced youngster clung to his tuba, blowing furiously, his face reddening with effort. With each puff, his eyes and cheeks popped quickly in and out like a love-stricken bullfrog.
Meanwhile, in front of the pack, Mrs. Adams swatted her baton wildly at imaginary mosquitoes. We parents were driven back on our benches.
Finally, one by one, either by design or fatigue, the various band members stopped playing. One youngster with great stamina managed to play on for some time before fading.
Mrs. Adams stared briefly at the band, and then turned to us with a broad smile. “Now wasn’t that real nice?”
Later that evening we commended our young musicians and donated a large chunk of sympathy to all underpaid and overworked elementary music teachers.
My mind snaps back to the present orchestral piece just as the solo flutist weaves a melodious tapestry. With a final flourish, the conductor thrusts his baton downward, leaving only a haunting musical echo. It is a marvelous performance that we in the audience meet with loud applause. And where arose these talented musicians? They who have borne us on wide wings of music? It would be nice, I think, to see them as beautiful musical flowers opening wide from small seeds planted years ago in a small elementary school gym.
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