Junior High teachers have a thankless job. And, sadly, are often a thankless lot. The kids they teach and supervise are old enough to think for themselves, thank you very much, (not that they think very clearly) and are pushing the age when adults are the grand barriers on the horizon to what the kids are attempting to become: adults themselves.
My band teachers were interesting to put it politely. I was relieved to make it past the one who I'm sure was a nice man but, to a 12 year-old who though she knew a little bit, resembled one of the bumbling seven dwarves more than an accomplished musician. My other teacher was Mr. Smith. He taught the more advanced classes, including an after-school band I participated in.
Mr. Smith had a temper. It was legendary and whispered about in giddy and ecstatic tones by those of us who had grown up in a fairly mild-mannered community abounding with mild-mannered guardians. He once threw a tuba across the band room. And. He drank coffee.
I know, coffee hardly seems anything to get excited about, but this was in Orem, Utah, home of many Mormons, and Mormons don't drink coffee. Junior High is the age where the realization begins to bud oh-so-slowly: there are people who may be unlike you, and as scary as that is, they may be nice anyway. So we accepted the smell of fresh coffee brewing in his office in the mornings for what it was: proof that a philistine or a rebel was living among us and that he was our band teacher.
Looking back, I realize that Mr. Smith was probably, in part, a frustrated artist. A man stuck teaching unappreciative children and dealing with their unappreciative parents. But he loved music. Or why would he be there at all?
He could play all of the instruments. And not only that, he could arrange music. He brought his own arrangement of a song from a movie soundtrack with parts for everyone. It may have even been Star Wars. The Thrill! We loved it. And we completely failed to appreciate what kind of time and energy he would have spent in writing that out for us to play.
The after-school band he ran participated in a competition against other bands, most of them high school level. While we couldn't technically compete we could be judged, and we got the highest marks. It was an experience with this band that I wrote about this week for Just an Orange.
Mr. Smith did have a temper. Along with the tuba, he threw a clipboard across the room and probably other things I don't remember. He stormed through the doors when the kids in his class were being rude and insolent. He left us speechless at times. But he did more than that. He really gave of himself, and he gave us an experience with music that has stayed with me. He left my junior high music department not long after I went on to high school. I hope he found a job somewhere that let him accomplish what he wanted; that let him be more than a frustrated musician in an unfamiliar world. I hope somewhere he was able to settle in to being an un-frustrated musician in a world that appreciated him.