From the Hills: Keep Your Eyes on the Wand, People

By Sylvia Peterson
Posted 9/7/22

There are lots of things I missed during the height of the pandemic. One that has come back is the high school marching band that we hear from our porch on Friday nights. Today I heard them …

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From the Hills: Keep Your Eyes on the Wand, People

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There are lots of things I missed during the height of the pandemic. One that has come back is the high school marching band that we hear from our porch on Friday nights. Today I heard them practicing again. It brought back a wave of memories. 

At age 12, I was certain I possessed the untapped skill to play an instrument. All I had to do was convince my parents to buy one for me. 

The school district had little money, my parents had even less. Everything from piccolos to tubas was borrowed or passed down. I’d need cash, preferably for a very feminine clarinet — a petite little flute would be even better. If smaller was cheaper I could save some money. 

I imagined myself waiting for the morning bus, my woodwind and music tossed casually across my lap while I applied a bit of lip gloss. Aloof and accomplished. Brilliant though troubled. Courageous and driven. 

Finally I went to my parents. “Please, please, please let me play in the school band. I’ll practice without a reminder, guard it with my life, and make you extremely proud.  Please, please, please. I’m begging — that ought to count for something.”

They were thrilled. Dad had played in the marching band and was extremely handsome in his uniform. He’d been hoping this day would come. His musical instrument was gathering dust in the basement. He fetched it immediately.  

My eyes glazed over with joy, until he returned with a large, faded, leather case. Inside was his trombone. 

My fantasy shattered. “But, but, but, girls don’t play trombones.”  

Was he serious? Now that I’d started junior high, I was secretly hoping for a boyfriend. Who would kiss a girl whose lips were swollen trombone red and fingers smelled like brass oil?  

Dad cleared the “spit valve” and blew a few notes. My fate was sealed.

I was a poor trombonist. Puberty is awkward enough without the added pressure of a trombone. I lugged it onto the school bus, setting it near the door, and secretly hoped it would disappear. It never did. But those tortuous years of band class taught me lessons I’ve never forgotten, like how to follow Jesus. 



Once I joined the band, my primary job was to please the conductor. He didn’t care how I looked or even if I was very smart. He wanted commitment and obedience. “If you haven’t read the music you aren’t ready to practice, much less perform.”  

When we had our quarterly concerts, I wasn’t looking at the audience for approval. The only face that mattered was the conductor’s. “Keep your eyes on the wand, people.”  

Mine jumped back and forth between the music telling me what notes to play, and him telling me how to play them — faster, slower, louder, softer. I could practice with the musical score, but to perform, I needed the direction of a skilled conductor.  

Subversion never occurred to us. We never suggested that our conductor change and do it “our way.” We never demanded his explanations. We were there to learn and be led. “Keep your eyes on the wand, people.”

Band taught me about teamwork. The goal of an instrument isn’t to stand out. It’s to blend in so perfectly that together a beautiful sound is made for the glory of all. 

Today I’m only good for a few “toots” on the family trombone. Perhaps its best lessons weren’t about music at all.  It was about learning to follow the conductor.  

I hope to hear a Sousa march from our porch again this year. 

“Keep your eyes on the wand, people.”

•••

Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at sylviap7@comcast.net.

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