exploration 9

March 28, 2007

“Sit up.” 

Begrudgingly, he sits up. It lasts a rare moment. 

“Sit up,” I repeat. And he does. 

Again, it collapses as soon as I turn my back. 

“Zane. Sit up.” I move behind him, placing a gentle hand on his back to get him to hold his trombone in the position that he needs to demonstrate to me. It is essential—fundamental—that he show me he can sit up and continue to do it. Otherwise, there is not good sound. There will not be good playing. 

“My back hurts.” His pleas and excuses are more numerous than miscounted rhythms and fractured notes. 

“Wah!” I say, moving back to the front of the class. “I don’t care that your back hurts, you need to sit up. Zane.” 

He has fallen back in his chair, slumped backwards, tucking his elbows, collapsing the airway between lungs and mouth. My eyes, if I could have seen them, were probably brimming with a combination of rage and ennui with this child. “The Look” as they say. I move in front of him, staring him down. 

“Zane, you will sit up like everyone else.” 

“But my back hurts.” 

“Sorry for you! Do it!” 

“But my back hurts! I hurt it yesterday.” 

“Just go to REACH.” I now turn my attention to the rest of the class who look on in disdain and boredom. They are used to this spectacle. They have seen this behavior every day for almost a year. They know where this is going.  

“Gah! This is so unfair!” 

“Just go. Pack up your things and go, Zane. Now.” I ignore him and try to regain the class. It is difficult. 

Twenty minutes later, I’m sitting in the office with Zane and the head band director, discussing how rules work. Again.  

“I’m sorry, Zane, you have to go by the same rules as everyone else. You have to sit up, and you need to do what I ask of you.” 

“You’re just being mean.” 

The head director is nicer about it than I am, but she gets the point across better. 

“Zane, I’m sorry if you hurt your back. Did you go to a doctor? Do you have a note?” 

There is a canny pause. 


“Okay, well, I’m gonna go ahead and write you an office referral and you go to your next class, okay. I don’t want you to be late.” She sets about scribbling on triplicate forms. 

“This is so unfair.” And he storms out of the office. 

Forty-five minutes later, I’m talking to his next teacher, Ms. Trias. Apparently, Zane did not go to class. He went to his mother, who substitute teaches at the school. This is the standard routine: teacher gets onto him, he goes and tells his mother what happened in some exaggerated terms, fakes a little illness or something, and gets to go home. Today was little exception. Except that the mother came to talk to the band director about it and received an earful about how she can’t keep protecting him like this, and that Zane needs to take responsibility for his own actions. 

Subsequently, the director decided that this student needs to be in her class from now on. Fine by me, I think. Little shit. 

The day goes on. Life goes on. Something about the afternoon class with the baritones is better than normal. Maybe it’s that Jonathon has figured out the secret (even if surface level) of practicing, of discipline. If you want results, you have to work for them. He wants to go to Mr. Gatti’s, so he practices. His small excited tirade makes me smile. It cows the other kid. 

And maybe, in that class, it’s that I get to handle these kids very informally, yet cover so little at a time. They are far behind their peers, and it bothers me. I want them to do well. I want them to do more. Jonathon is finally trying to take his baritone home more often. Ed does not. Still does not. He goes on to show me the next day that he doesn’t need to practice to get results. It makes me angry, but I keep my cool. 

And there is something about the concert band at the end of the day that puts things in perspective. The kids that don’t do this because they have to. The kids who really want to be here, but have so many things in their way that they can’t move faster, or won’t. The kids with no sense of purpose. The kids who only want to have fun.  

It is refreshing, if not frustrating, to see their raw enthusiasm or disgust at any given moment. It is unbridled. They don’t hold back. 

To think about it, these kids are not unalike. The baritones have needs and wants and they react wildly to them. Zane even reacts in the methods that have produced for him in the past.  

“Ed,” I say, “It’s okay that you aren’t getting it, but you have to practice at home.”  

“I haven’t had to practice anything else so far, and I’ve done okay.”  

“Well, this thing right here is harder, so you might have to practice.” 

And the next day, he gets it. He figures out the puzzle without anything other than minimal effort. Damn him. 

Today, we found out that the twin sister of a student at school had been shot and killed last night. My first thoughts were shock. I couldn’t believe it. That’s a mere two degrees away, as far as I’m concerned. These students, though I’m not really their teacher, are my students. My shock quickly turns to anger, and I begin to feel betrayed that someone has infiltrated the safety of the band hall.  

This is where you go to get away from the world; to lose yourself in the music and not come back. This is the safe haven, the ollie-ollie-ocksenfree. And someone has shot a hole in it. I don’t know who to blame, but I don’t try find anyone. 

In fact, I find myself crying. Simply mourning that poor girl who died. I’d only recognized her the day before. She was the sister of the girl who played clarinet in the symphonic band. She looked just like her. I mourn for her and her sister, together. I mourn for their family, for the band. I mourn for these children. I mourn for the kids that I don’t know what’s wrong with their lives—the ones with secrets. I mourn for those who have not been exposed to this sort of tragedy before, in hopes that they will survive the idea of such pain or hate or causality. 

In a way, I cry for myself, because I feel like I’ve had a hole punched in my defenses, and it’s not fair. My whole life in music, I’ve looked at it as a safe house. My run-away spot. I’ve required that a group of 170 people be a part of a ploy I have to remain secure in the bonds of something that I love terribly. It is a ploy I will never regret, and will never regret asking others to take part. 

But it is in my lack of regret that I feel I understand Zane a little. Maybe making himself throw up in front of his mother has worked for years. Maybe it will continue to work, and maybe she’ll keep giving in. If that’s so, then I can’t blame him. He’s only getting what he wants. That’s what we all try to get every day.  

Yet my teacher brain kicks in, and realizes that he still argues with me in class. I can’t simply forgive that, now can I?


  1. Now this is a blog post.

  2. One day that kid will learn. Like with my sis, she was always a PITA and she has two kids just like her. 😛 So one day he’ll see his kids tossin’ their cookies to get their way and see, “oh, this is rather familiar…”

    Hun, do your best though. Keep molding those kids into wonderful musicians! 🙂


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