Tonight was the local spring band concert for our twins’ middle school advanced band. Since this is their second year in band they have gained a new level of confidence in their instruments along with the rest of their bandmates, and they really sounded good tonight. An especially nice treat was having their grandparents attend: both of my parents were there, along with my wife’s mother. At the end of the concert a number of awards were given out, and we were able to applaud the efforts of some well-deserving young teens who are learning to make beautiful music.
As I sat and listened, I noticed the instruments the children were playing. Almost all of them were bright and shiny, still looking almost new, and freshly cleaned for the big show. Since I have gotten older I have begun doing a lot of trading of musical instruments, buying and selling one or two a month when the right opportunities come around. Believe me, I understand how expensive a good instrument can be. As I looked at the kids playing I realized that it was very likely there was nearly $200,000 worth of instruments in the building at that very moment in the hands of children…! That was an eye-opening thought, but then I realized that while some of them were school loaners or rentals, most were purchased by parents who were hoping their children would put them to good use. I stopped and let that sink in a minute, then I looked down the aisle at my own parents. They are in their late seventies now and beginning to slow down, but as I looked at them for just a moment I saw them as they were when I was my boys’ age, beaming up at a stage full of children.
Suddenly it hit me how much my parents must have sacrificed to keep me and my siblings not only properly equipped for our own band experiences, but likely we were better equipped than most of our classmates. I remember the french horn my sister played in junior high and high sticky and slow the valves were. When she began exhibiting some drive and talent, my parents made the commitment to get her a decent instrument that could take her to college or even further. Since this was over 30 years ago there was no Internet, only a few catalogs that her instructor had that started them in the right direction. Soon my father was making long distance phone calls to instrument dealers that were hundreds of miles away. After a few weeks of research he had the band director place an order for a Holton french horn, a Philip Farkas model, considered the Cadillac of instruments at the time. It cost well over $1,000, which may seem trifling today, but for an electronic technician with four children was a huge amount of money. My sister still has that horn, and it took her through high school, college, and into a career as a band director.
My other sister had the misfortune of choosing the oboe as her primary instrument…! Though she started beginner band with flute, by her freshman year of high school she had begun learning the double reed instrument. My father stepped up again. Living in Arkansas meant that there were not a lot of musical instrument dealerships around, and the ones that were here tended to, well, under-stock their supplies. It was difficult to find decent reeds, and when dad did find them they were often borderline unusable pieces of cork and rough bamboo. My sister’s oboe instructor began trying to teach her how to improve her reeds by scraping them and soaking them in water to keep them pliable. Since my father went to lessons with her, he paid attention, and after a few months he decided that he needed to learn to make reeds, too. He bought a reed-making kit and supplies, and soon my sister had nearly a dozen serviceable reeds, which was quite a luxury compared to what most students had. But Dad didn’t stop there.
My sister’s oboe was, well, a piece of plastic junk. My oboe sister was every bit as talented as her twin (yes, I have twin sisters, as well as twin sons!) The instructor spoke with my father and sister about her instrument, and the need to equip her with an instrument suitable to her talents and abilities. Soon Dad started researching again, but this was a more difficult pill to swallow. Decent oboes back in the 1970’s were almost always made of grenadilla wood, with silver keys and hand-appliend cork pads, and Loree oboes were considered the best. If a Farkas-model french horn was considered a Cadillac, then a french-made Loree would be considered a German luxury car! Once again, Dad stepped up, placing an order for an instrument that must have cost at least $2,000 in 1975. To make matters worse, the instrument did not make it cleanly through it’s break-in period. One evening she was playing it at a band rehearsal during the cold winter months, and she stood in front of a door that opened briefly to the outside air. A gust of cold wind hit the grenadilla wood, and the top section of the instrument cracked nearly it’s full length. The repair required it to be returned to the factory in France. I was never told how much that cost!
My own time came, too. I played trombone, starting with a used student model. It lasted me two years before it’s lack of quality, well, got in the way. Yet again, Dad stepped up, researching horns and eventually placing an order for a King 4B trigger trombone. I was the only kid in ninth grade that had one, and when I got it my parents let me know that I no longer had an excuse for not the best trombonist I could be. Thankfully, I heard them, and committed to practicing at least an hour a day during the year, and two hours a day when preparing for region and all-state tryouts. That horn took me all the way to college, helping me land a scholarship for just being in the band as a non-music major.
So I sit in a darkened hall, listening to children playing music suitable for 12 and 13 year-olds, and accepting awards for excelling, practicing, and just participating at a higher level. Suddenly I realize: someone forgot to award all of those parents. I looked around the concert hall at the parents and grandparents sitting around me. I see men and women in business suits and with jeans and shirts with name tags stitched on them. I see moms and dads wearing surgical scrubs because they came straight from the hospital to the concert. I see moms with babies on their hips, shushing them gently so we can all hear. And above all, I see sacrifice: time, money, and effort given because of their love for their children. Personally, much of who I am is directly related to that time in a practice room, in a band hall, or on a concert stage, which was made possible from the sacrifices my parents made to keep me in a decent horn. Mom, Dad, thank you for the commitment you made to me and my sisters’ music! And thanks for the example you set; I pray I am as good for my own boys.
And since this blog is NOT all about me: how can you help? Not every boy and girl has a parent willing to do whatever it takes to get an instrument for their child. Here are a couple of worthy charities you can support a child through:
And, as always, consider volunteering at a local school or church if you have skills as a musician, donating an old (or new!) unused instrument to them, or donating money to send kids to band or music camp. And if you are a musician because your Mom or Dad stepped up and sacrificed, tell them thank you!