In high school, it was clear that I had a band director, not a teacher. That was a different experience than the one I had in junior high. The man who brought me through Cadet Band as a seventh grader and then two years of Concert Band was most definitely a teacher. I can recognize this now because I am a teacher.
In some ways the way John Whitehurst rode herd on that group of seventh graders reminds me of the way an elementary school teacher copes with a room full of kids with such a wide array of abilities and talents. For instance, I showed up in the auditorium on that first day with three months of weekly lessons on a sousaphone. Most of my counterparts had been playing together in elementary school orchestras or bands in addition to all that practicing they had been doing in advance. Not all of them, of course. I was ahead of a couple of the kids in the room. They were the ones who did share something with me: the desire to be part of something bigger. We wanted to be in a band. I had seen how much fun my older brother had and all the friends he'd made in band and I wanted some of that. It did not occur to me that my ability of play a musical instrument might stand in the way. I had, as both of my brothers did, years of piano lessons and that urge to be part of something bigger: a band. My band director, my teacher, didn't have a sousaphone on hand so he handed me the next best thing. He wanted me to play a baritone. Looking back, I can see how he might have felt that it would be an easy enough switch. Sousaphone was low brass. Baritone was low brass. How hard could that be? He wasn't asking me to play clarinet. He wasn't asking for me to take up the marimba. From where I was sitting, in the back row with the trombones and the other baritone player, he might as well have been asking me to play something designed by Dr. Seuss. I could read music, I understood the idea behind the music, I could hear the music in my head. Making it come out of a baritone wasn't something I was equipped to do. Not at all. I was twelve.
Mister Whitehurst figured that out. Not initially, but in time. He made a few calls. He got me a sousaphone. We had a spare baritone in case someone else wanted to play it. I was the sousaphone player in Cadet Band. I wasn't great, but I was comfortable. I never got great, but I got better. I played sousaphone in Concert Band in eighth and ninth grade. When I moved on to high school, and when my high school band director asked if I could play trombone in Stage Band, I said "Sure."
Thank you, John. Mister Whitehurst.