Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jazz 'n Cakes

I live where I live because of the schools. We live in the same district I did as a teenager and my children are going to my alma mater. I wanted this for them because I felt so privileged here. It was here that I earned a scholarship to study in Germany. Twenty-two years later, my son participated in the same program and headed for Germany as exchange student like I did long ago.

I also enjoyed the music program at my old high school and feel like it set me up for musical success that I might not have enjoyed at other schools. We had a very strong music program with excellent, dedicated teachers and a community of parents that supported the arts. My son played in that band, too, and now my daughter plays his old trumpet and participates in not only concert band, but jazz band as well. This is her first year.

The band program got off to a rocky start for her class. School levies failed and band was cut for two years. She finally started playing this year as a 7th grader. I didn't know how they could possibly catch up to where they should be. What would happen to all those talented musicians who wanted to go on to study music at college? What had happened to the school music program I loved? Why wasn't she enjoying the privilege of a nationally-recognized music program as I had? It upset me.

But the community rallied. They reinstated the band program and the music directors reformatted the class so that these beginner 7th graders have band every day instead of a couple times a week. They introduced the jazz band at my daughter's junior high and those who made it through try-outs now practice after school. Their hard work paid off. They had their first concert and I couldn't believe how wonderful they sounded with only six months of instruction under their belts.

One of the lessons they try to impart in jazz band is the ability to play impromptu solos; jamming with the band like real jazz musicians do. At the first school concert, a half-dozen brass players volunteered to come up front during a song and play a rif. They were incredible! I'm not sure I would have had the nerve. My sometimes-shy daughter didn't volunteer. She was happy enough to play in the background.

Then, this weekend, the school held their annual "Jazz 'n Cakes," a pancake breakfast fundraiser during which all the district jazz bands play as entertainment. The place was packed! The student volunteers seated us and waited on us as we listened to high school jazz ensembles and junior high jazz bands play. It was standing room only in the large cafeteria. I think we all lingered because the music was so good. I felt a warm glow being surrounded by all the great music. It brought back many pleasant memories and I felt lucky and privileged that my children attended a school with a music program like this.

And then it got even better.

My daughter's jazz band played the songs I'd heard them play at their school concert a month ago. They sounded even more polished and not so very different than the more experienced high schoolers. The same half-dozen brass players took their turns at the microphone, playing trombone, saxophone and trumpet solos. Then all of a sudden, a little blond-haired girl took her place at the mic. My daughter was up there! In front of hundreds of parents and students, she raised her trumpet to her mouth and played a spontaneous solo. It was  magnificent! So perfect, and completely unpracticed. I couldn't believe it was her!

I beamed through the whole concert and hugged her to me afterward. I was so proud of her! Not just because she'd played so well, but because she'd had the courage to voluntarily stand up in front of a huge crowd and do it. I know part of her confidence came from that same sense of privilege that brought us to this school district in the first place. Their music program is so strong that she knew she could do it; she knew she could play and play well.

But I'll bet she never knew this: that she could bring tears to my eyes by doing it.


  1. Yay for arts in the schools. We've got to keep it going, somehow. I'm glad at least one school has found a way. :)

  2. We definitely do. It's so important.