Ah, the school band. Back in my day, its members were often portrayed as socially awkward outcasts in movies and TV. And, I mean, maybe there was an element of truth to it. When I was entering 5th grade, mouth full of braces, thick lenses for my prematurely myopic eyes, and a mane of freshly permed (yes PERMED) frizz atop my dome, I could not wait to join the band.
I honestly can’t even explain why I was so excited to be in the band. I had no natural sense of rhythm, had never played an instrument, and didn’t really have any musical role models (except Paula Abdul, of course). I somehow just knew it would be my place and those would be my people.
I can still remember the day of instrument selection, when the band director allowed all interested students to try out three instruments and then choose their favorite. I tried the trumpet, saxophone and the flute. I couldn’t make a noise on the flute, and the saxophone definitely gave off too much of a smooth-operator vibe for someone who regularly wore sweater vests. But as soon as I grasped that trumpet and put lips to mouthpiece, I knew exactly what I was— a trumpetess! Trumpeter? Trumpetier? I was going to be a trumpet player.
I played trumpet from 5th grade through senior year of high school. I’m not going to say I enjoyed every second of it— marching in parades during the heyday of the American Pie movies and their, ahem, band references, was not for the faint of heart. But I loved 99% of my time in band. I was always a very anxious child, but when I was playing in band, my anxiety seemed to melt away. From the lasting friendships to the challenge of making honor band to the honing of an enjoyable skill, I adored being in band. I loved the camaraderie and the collaborative effort to learn and master a song and ultimately entertain an audience. I even met my husband in band! We started dating when I was a sophomore and he was a junior. He played the saxophone, was funny and kind, and (being a saxophone) did not wear a sweater vest. There was so much comfort in dating someone who shared the same passion for what some might call a nerdish extracurricular.
Now that I have children old enough for band, my eldest is following in my husband’s footsteps and playing saxophone. And I am p u m p e d. No, really. I could not be more excited. He is in 6th grade and already has the sweetest and most genuine group of friends from band. They even get together and practice on the weekends sometimes. He’s dedicated to practicing and composes his own music. He’s already talking about how excited he is to play in high school and maybe even college. And I am so here for it. All of it.
And you know what? I feel like students’ attitudes toward band have had a major shift from when I was young. In my son’s middle school, a HUGE percentage of the eligible student body joins the band. It seems to be eagerly anticipated, even coveted. My son’s class only has one student who is not in the band! I know it shouldn’t matter that popular culture has deemed band more socially acceptable, but I do love the fact that kids are more willing to recognize and applaud the inherent awesomeness of learning to play an instrument.
And then there’s the science— all the stuff I didn’t realize as a kid, but am thrilled to know about as a parent. Besides the social support system formed upon joining the band, myriad studies have linked playing an instrument to increased brain functioning. Some benefits include better sensory-motor integration and auditory-motor interactions; a brain more capable of processing complex information; enhanced memory, verbal ability, fine motor skills, vocabulary and non-verbal reasoning skills. Honestly, the cognitive benefits are too extensive to list!
So there it is. My evolution from band member to band mom. I am excited to watch my son’s performances and concerts. I’ll be at his high school football games, cheering after every cheesy Jock Jams song played after a touchdown. I’m going to be one of those vest-wearing crowd-pusher-backers who marches alongside the band during mardi gras parades, ready to pounce on any intoxicated fool in the crowd who gets out of line or starts a sentence with, “this one time, in band camp…” I will be there to support my kiddo and his bandmates as much as my son will allow it.
It might sound like I’m trying to live vicariously, but I’m not. I lived this experience already and, trust me, as much as I liked band, I have no desire to return to high school. I just know how much the band has to offer and I’m thrilled my son has opened himself to the experience and seems to be embracing it with passion and enthusiasm. And I’ll be right by his side, cheering him on, sweater vest and all.
Just kidding- I don’t still wear sweater vests…they don’t match my Crocs.
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