December 11, 2020
When I was 10 years old I was ushered into a room and shown a blue diagram with several brass instruments on it – instruments I had never seen before in my life. I chose that day to play tuba. Little did I know that the tuba and I would begin a journey that would change my life forever. I went to a school in a tough part of town and, if I did not have music to occupy my time and peek my interest, who knows what trouble I may have found myself in. Music was my refuge; it was my escape from reality. Music saved my life and saves the lives of many children on a daily basis. Music gave myself and others a sense of community that was not available for us to experience after the school day was over. With school not being in session during this pandemic I can only imagine how difficult it is for some students to cope with not having band class or marching band after school.
As a band teacher, many students told me how much they looked forward to band class. It was the one class where they could be free, could be creative, and also put in the most work. Many students enjoyed the camaraderie, the chance to meet new students in the building, and the chance to perform for their community. Without band or art, some of these students would never experience these events in their lives. The arts provide so much for the mental and emotional welfare for our students, that it is amazing that we are not considered a standard in education today. I have met countless adults who can remember their band directors mannerisms, band camp, the instrument they played, etc. These moments change the lives of our students for the better.
Music teaches us to push beyond our scope of understanding and the doubts that others put on us. It allows us an opportunity to overcome odds and stereotypes that others put on us because of the color of their skin. Each day we have to make a decision to practice and reinforce good habits in ourselves. This is an amazing teaching tool for music students that affect their lives beyond the music classroom and practice room. Each day music teaches our students that they can become anything, through hard work and practice.
Growing up I didn’t get a chance to see many Black classical musicians, and never heard of African American composers such as Florence Price or William Grant Still until my last year of college. While attending predominantly white institutions for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I experienced many uncomfortable situations around race and music. The color of my skin spoke for me before I even played note. People would say I was only accepted into these schools because I was Black and the school needed to increase their diversity. These experiences can really break one’s self-confidence and belief in their own talent and ability. I experienced this as a teacher as well. My ensembles were never expected to make it to state band festivals and win as many championships as we did. However, I believe that my students gained so much from having at least one African American male teacher in their life. I was able to be a good role model and motivator to both Black and white students.
In retrospect, all aspects of my life have been affected by the arts. I am able to live comfortably with my family, I am able to understand and digest varying points of views, and meet new people daily because of my experiences in the arts. Our children deserve the arts every day, not every other day on an A/B day schedule. They deserve to have these meaningful experiences every day.