Saturday, January 03, 2015

An Open Letter From A Proud Dork

Dear Jim Rome,

In my freshman year of high school, I received a letterman jacket for Christmas, courtesy of my grandma and my parents. It was blue wool with red leather sleeves. A snarling bulldog adorned the back, and my name and a neat little clarinet were embroidered on the front. Eventually, my band letter would be stitched to it. I wore that jacket for four years, and I still have it to this day, lovingly packed away in my memory trunk.

I even wore that jacket for my senior picture. 

I remember wearing it to school shortly after receiving it, and getting involved in a class discussion in my English class about something-or-other. I remember very clearly the look on one girl's face when she turned to respond to something I'd said with, "Frankly, Megan, [my friend] and I laugh at people who letter in band."

Fortunately, I wasn't one of those 14-year-olds who withered away when faced with teasing. By now, my acne had mostly cleared up, but three years of "pizza face" and "your face looks like my baby sister's diaper rash" had helped me build a shell that protected me from the stupid barbs of other kids. Besides, I was damn proud of my accomplishments in band so far. You see, it was far from easy, that first year.

I can recall coming home from the first couple nights of our week-long band camp and sitting at home, desperately practicing my field show music. Dad got home from work to find me in tears in my bedroom, so he sat down and asked what the problem was.

"I'll never get this!!" I wailed, indicating the music in front of me. I was three years into my career as a clarinetist, and I'd only been playing the higher notes on the instrument for a year or so. "And I have to memorize drill and march in step and memorize this music and put it all together and..." At this point, vicious sobbing.

Dad, in that Colonel Cooper way of his, gave me his usual speech about not quitting, about being more able than I think I am, etc. I don't remember his exact words, but I do remember that he calmed me down.

Within a few weeks, things started to click. I did learn the music, the drill, how to march in step. I did put it all together. It worked. More than that--it became fun.

Being in the band--both marching and the wind ensemble that we played in after marching season finished--taught me so many lessons that I've taken with me throughout my life. Lessons about discipline, and perseverance (making good music is not easy, Mr. Rome, we just make it look that way, and that, sir, is our biggest talent). Lessons about teamwork, and being one tiny cog that helps the whole machine run. I've made some of my dearest and longest-lasting friendships thanks to being a musician.

A few days ago, you Tweeted an incredibly childish remark about how you don't enjoy watching the "dorks" of marching band "running around with their instruments" out on the field. The dorks of the world were quick to respond, and the #MarchOnRome hashtag gave you some valuable feedback. I appreciate your apology, though I suspect you might not truly understand just how amazing band dorks are.

For yes, we are dorks. We have inside jokes that you don't understand, we spend large amounts of time practicing our craft, perfecting our skills. These are skills we will always have. Many band dorks may not go on to careers in music, but they will have the gift of music, and the enjoyment of music, until the day they die. What could possibly be bad about that?

Did you know that a lot of medical professionals have backgrounds in music? Every time I see my dentist, she remembers that I am a high school choir teacher, and we talk about our current musical projects. She is a violinist. Countless doctors I've seen, when they casually ask what I do for a living, light up when they realize we have a common passion--music. They know, as I do, that music takes discipline and focus--the same qualities that make them excellent doctors now. They also know that music calms frazzled nerves, and brings something beautiful to the world.

Perhaps I'm beating on a dead horse, writing a blog post about this after you have apologized for your initial remarks, but it's not just about you. I suppose we just get tired of people assuming that what we do is easy, or silly. There is nothing easy about years of training, hours upon hours of practice, and there is nothing silly about what we put out in the world. Most people can't walk and chew gum, Mr. Rome. Band dorks can do that an so much more.

My days as an active band geek are mostly past--I do, of course, still play my clarinet from time to time, but these days I focus on the choral end of things. That doesn't mean, however, that I am not truly and forever a Dork of the Highest Order. Choir Nerds are a very real phenomenon, too. It's too late for me now; I will always be a music nerd.

And frankly, Mr. Rome, I pity people who can't understand that.


Meg of the Little Pink Blog

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