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All I Ever Needed To Know I Learned In the Band

I believe involvement in the arts will help students learn in other areas.  I also believe that the arts are valuable in and of themselves and of great value to children’s creativity, social, and moral development.

I got this opinion honesty….from personal experience.  My own path of learning, academic improvement, and work-habits can be traced to involvement in music.  The following includes just a few lessons learned.  Some are valuable and others not so much.

EHS Band in the 70s

EHS Band in the 70s

All I Ever Needed To Know I Learned In the Band

  1. I learned the importance of persistence:  “Again from the top, please…”
  2. I learned that self-esteem is developed by meeting challenges:  “Mr. Cooper, our band director, really believes we can play this piece?”
  3. I learned you can do almost anything you’re passionate about if you try long and hard enough.  “Yes I just love practicing the 26 snare drum rudiments.  Oh yes, scales are fun, too!”
  4. I learned the importance of flexibility.  “You want us there at what time?”
  5. I learned to suspend judgment:  “You don’t know if you like this piece until you can play it!” – Mr. Cooper, our long-suffering band conductor.
  6. I learned the importance of showing up no matter how you feel.  Every person is important.  If you’re not there, it hurts the whole group.
  7. I learned to be on time.  There is nothing like the “Cooper stare” if you hop into formation late.
  8. I learned organizational skills.  What other class requires that a student show up on time with 27 separate uniform parts, music folder, clothespins, snacks, and at least two drum sticks (hopefully a matched pair).
  9. I learned to use the resources at hand:  Sometimes a piece of duct tape will get you through a performance.
  10. I learned to appreciate the great outdoors.  I have fond memories of those early morning winter marches on the parking lot.  “I hear sound coming from my drum, but I can’t feel my hands.”
  11. I learned that success depends on how you use your time.  “The best bands are the bands that fix mistakes the quickest.”  – Mr. Cooper
  12. I learned to keep going no matter what.  I remember the roar of laughter in a Little Rock stadium after one file took a countermarch 20 yards early.  We just kept going and regrouped at the majorette feature tune.  “Take real big steps and we’ll get this back together,” several unidentified seniors were heard to say.
  13. I learned that there is more than one way to hit a drum.  “Yes, I know those are marimba mallets and you’re playing timpani, but that’s the sound I want.” –  Mr. Cooper
  14. I learned how to ad-lib.  “Forget what is written, drummers.  Just make it sound right.” – Mr. Cooper
  15. I learned the importance of consistency.  “You’re not getting better because you make new mistakes every day.” – Mr. Cooper
  16. I learned the importance of a compliment, no matter how small.  The tension and suspense after a halftime show lifted completely when Mr. Cooper turned and simply said, “Good job.”
  17. I learned to change clothes quickly and in any location.  “Just hold that blanket up for a second.”   I’m not sure why this is important but it could come in handy.
  18. I learned to travel in varied accommodations.  Experienced travelers by school bus will do fine in any third world country.
  19. I learned the importance of a group effort focused on a common goal.  “Take aim and push your sound all the way to the press box.” – Mr. Cooper
  20. I learned that it’s OK to be a little arrogant as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously.  We really were pretty awesome!
  21. I learned the power of music.  I’ll never forget the first time I heard the Symphonic Band open up on “Russian Christmas Music!”  It changed this drummer’s life.
  22. I learned that success feels good and failure feels bad.  If you take success for granted, you’re headed for failure.  If you learn from your failures, you’re headed for success.  I remember a split rating (I-I-II) we had difficulty understanding.  Mr. Cooper didn’t knock the judge; he just worked us harder.  The next ratings were straight First Divisions all the way across (I-I-I).
  23. I learned that while perfection might be the goal, you have to go with what you’ve got.  I’ve heard a lot of great imperfect performances.  Mr. Cooper once remarked as we listened to a reel-to-reel performance tape, “It’s amazing that a bunch of kids playing noise makers can make music that gives you goose bumps.”

Thank you Mr. Hal Cooper for a lot of great memories and a few musical goose bumps along the way!

A few random thoughts by Jim Warnock written in 2000 (revised in 2013)
EHS Percussion, Class of 1974
Principal at Alma Intermediate School

EHS Band 1973 - I'm behind the timpani in white socks because I forgot my band shoes.

EHS Band 1973 – I’m behind the timpani in white socks because I forgot my band shoes.

A stern, yet understanding teacher makes space for a young drummer.

A young man in front of me began thumping intricate rhythms on a book with his fingers.   A moment later a kid down the row began doing some nice rhythms on his chest and legs.  Sitting in that concert hall at the University of Arkansas, I realized I was among kindred spirits.  A room filled with drummers!

Drum ensemble

Drum ensemble

This reminded me of Ms. Break, my 4th grade teacher (whom I loved….and feared).  She often scolded me for drumming on my desk.  I tried to be courteous by pressing my ear against the wooden top to amplify the sound while avoiding disturbing others.  The metal book box below the seat was a fantastic drum and offered a variety of tones depending on where and how it was struck.

timpani stroke

Years later I was playing timpani at the First Methodist Church in my hometown. Ms. Break hollered down from the choir loft with a laugh, “You never did stop that drumming!”   While she did scold me about drumming in her class, she never let little idiosyncrasies interfere with our relationship.  She made space for me to be who I was and that meant a lot.

I enjoyed seeing the percussionists warming up before the recital at the U of A but also enjoyed the informal and spontaneous rhythmic performances occurring out among the audience prior to the concert while thinking of my early drumming days.

Drummers are a strange breed!  You’ll rarely see trumpet players buzzing their lips or violinist bowing the air, but you can always spot a percussionist, whether a fourth grader, college kid, or adult.

Kelby, the reason for our attendance, giving an amazing performance in her junior recital.

Kelby, the reason for our attendance, giving an amazing performance in her junior recital.

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