Picture of Janet


Not So Common After All

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Date: SUN 12/17/95
Page: 3
Edition: 2 STAR

Not so common after all


This band hall is common, nothing special by the looks of it. The designers’ goals were utility and function, and this room could be placed on the periphery of any local high school. This one is part of Westfield High School in the Spring Independent School District.

It is windowless and big. A number of little rooms open onto the big hall. There is a cluttered look, not from neglect, but from use. Diagrams and boards full of notes line halls and walls. There is the standard trophy case filled with tributes; it does not inspire much curiosity. Trophies are too familiar, too common. Discarded clothing is strewn about. I notice a great deal of individuality represented in the colors, patterns and styles – individuality that ultimately will be masked by identical marching band uniforms.

I know the students are here, although I don’t actually see them. They are closeted in personal practice rooms or with fellow musicians in sectionals. The only things that testify to their presence are faint notes that mingle in the air, pleasantly discordant. I peek through the partially opened door of a room. The students are concentrating and do not sense my presence. They have a look that is intense, yet relaxed and somewhat innocent. It is a combination reserved for youth. They seem confident with themselves and each other, males and females, talented and not-so-talented, the gifted and the good.

They are all here for the same purpose, to create and perfect a musical, marching show or concert. To this end, they will dedicate endless hours of practice. They will be dictated to by directors and student leaders who will watch every misplaced step, crooked line, incorrect note and dynamic injustice. They will work hard and discipline themselves. They will find time to do their homework or they won’t pass. They will ask for help or include themselves in impromptu study groups that gather along the halls, their sweaty bodies and unkempt hair of no consequence as they struggle with math or memorize history. A few will openly argue and rebel against demands and decisions; others will chafe silently. They are normal, ordinary kids.

As if some unseen signal is given, the music filtering the air stops. It is replaced by a soft cacophony of scraping chairs and rustling papers, as the students begin to move into the big room. I quietly ascend the stairs that lead to an observation balcony and stand well back from the rail. I cannot see the students, nor can they see me. My mind construes this as an attempt to respect privacy, theirs and mine. Perhaps there is greater honesty in a performance when it does not hinge on audience recognition.

I have delivered the reeds that were needed. I could go home, yet I don’t. Soon every chair is filled. I can feel that the students are no longer restless, but focused. They are quiet in anticipation.

I think about the valuables the room now contains. Every hand holds an ingeniously crafted, beautiful musical instrument, but it is not this that my heart is drawn to. This room contains my legacy. For good or bad, this is my generation’s offering to the world. These are the doctors who will take care of me, the officials who will govern my world. They are the parents of future generations and teachers who will explain an increasingly complex world.

I hope there is a philosopher here who will explain a truth, a preacher who will touch a soul, a poet who will write a song, or a diplomat who will soothe an anger with kind and gentle words. Ordinary these students may be, but they are priceless, and I wonder: Do they know this?

They begin to play. I have heard this song before. It is a classical piece, several centuries old, timeless in its appeal. For a moment, my mind registers surprise at the acumen displayed. The music swells, and I am transported by the sound. It touches my soul – that ancient part that must have desired expression and could find it only through art. Chill bumps travel up my arms as I close my eyes and let the music fill me. This room is designed for sound, and I can imagine in my mind’s eye the waves as they break upon the ceiling, chaotic, joyous and wonderful.

I was fooled; these students, this place, are most uncommon. They have learned to speak the language of music and beyond all the practice and the discipline and the youth, these souls have discovered fluency. They have created something wholly uncommon, beyond their individuality or any personal accolades. Because they are dependent on one another for beauty and perfection, a seed of how good society can be is placed in fertile ground.

Their practice will be over soon, and I head home with a light heart and a melody on my mind. I, too, have felt the joy of society in music, and I am happy with the belief that the opportunity will always be there. Life’s common things await me: dinner to cook, poster-board projects to make, laundry to fold. This morning the communal laundry produced a white, ragged T-shirt I don’t remember purchasing. It was faded, the writing on it just legible: “Cooperation – The fuel that allows common people the ability to attain uncommon results.”

I hear the old Ford truck door slam, and my boy walks into the kitchen. He’s home, he’s hungry, he looks peaceful. He mills around, poking the food, and stands by me; there is a companionable silence between us. He lays his arms across my shoulder, an uncommon gesture, and I ask him how his day was.

“Mom,” he says, “you should have heard the band today.”

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