When I was in middle school and high school, I was a band kid. I played the trumpet and if there was an assembled group at the school, I was probably in it. Marching band. Concert band. Stage band. Jazz band. Looking back, I now realize that I wasn’t that great of a player, but I enjoyed playing with those folk. We’d play during football games and basketball games. We’d play at wrestling meets and other school events. Between touchdowns and basketball periods and wrestling matches, you could hear the bands performing, trying to entertain people who mostly came to see our classmates compete. But we enjoyed playing, nonetheless.
More than playing together, I just enjoyed the people in the band. We were all band kids. Your school probably called them something different. I know our school did, too. When describing the band kids, our classmates would use a pejorative that I won’t share here. But honestly, it didn’t matter what we were called. We were a group of misfits and weirdos and square pegs that didn’t quite fit in with the other social groups in the school. Somehow those divisions mattered then.
Jocks. Nerds. Band kids. Stoners.
And maybe they still matter in schools. But all these years later, I recognize that other problems exist in the world, ones that are way more important than whether someone plays a trumpet or throws a football. But I digress.
I’ve been thinking about my days as a band kid lately because I joined a community band recently. After almost 35 years, I’ve decided to pick up my trumpet again. I have to admit that I was terrified. I literally had nightmares about walking into the first practice and being shunned for my inability to play. Of course, that’s not what happened. I was greeted by a bunch of supportive people who were gathered by the joy of playing together. To be clear, mistakes were definitely made, not just by me but by the other people in the band, too. At one point in our first practice, I forgot how to play a D sharp, and I pulled out a cheat sheet I had found online. Another trumpet player leaned over and said “If you forget how to play a note, just ask. I’m here to help.” At last week’s practice, a baritone player made an epic mistake and apologized to the group explaining that he “was concentrating so hard that I forgot how to play.” We laughed and took it from the top, so he’d have a chance to do better.
I’ve been writing this post in my head for the last four weeks. In one version, I was planning to focus on the power of practice. In another, I was thinking about digging into John Dewey and the motivational aspects of perplexity. But this post elbowed those ones to the side.
The environments in which we live, work, and learn are critical to our success. And while it’s easy to divide the world up with artificial titles like “band kid” or “jock” or whatever, what’s really important is that each of us find spaces where it’s okay to make mistakes. Where we can laugh at our missteps and have the opportunity to take it from the top and try again.