Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Monday, May 16, 2011

God Vibrations

In one of the Harry Potter movies, the second I think, our heroic trio is in search of some forbidden place called the Chamber of Secrets.  Searching it out means not just that the three of them will get in trouble, but their entire house (dormitory) – which seems to me isn’t quite right.

At any rate a shy, nervous character named Neville stands up to them and tells them he’s not going to let them get the entire house in trouble and be punished.  Well, of course, Hermione, just zaps him and off they go to save the day.  But at the end of the film, when Head Wizard Dumbledore is handing out awards, he tells the students it takes a lot of courage to stand up to your enemies, but even more courage to stand up to your friends, and he awards the hapless Neville ten points – which wins the House Cup for their House (Gryffindor).

When I was learning to play the piano, I wanted to learn to play like my grandmother.  She was so much fun.  She could play by ear and knew all the songs you could sing to.  That’s what I wanted to do.  Instead, my grouse of a piano teacher gave me a primer book with all minor key, classical songs, which I hated.

My brothers were jealous and locked the dog in the cellar to make him howl while I tried to learn these pieces which I detested.  Even my father complained.  I made very little progress and my piano teacher would bawl me out, marking my mistakes in red.  Finally, one day my mother came to pick me up and my grandmother happened to be riding along.  She’s the one who gave me the piano.  I was crying again, as usual.  Grandma ordered my mother to put an end to my lessons.

In high school, they had a beautiful grand piano in the choir practice room, but only the elite students were allowed to play it.  I was invited to use one of the practice pianos and I tried it, since practicing my own piano was pretty near impossible.  But I had no heart for it by then.

Then I joined the local community band as a glock player.  They yelled at me, too, at first, because I wasn’t hitting the bells hard enough.  But I persevered.  One cold rainy, parade, I hit the bells so hard (bells don’t ring when they’re wet) that the yellow head of the mallet snapped off and went rolling down the street.  Once I got the knack of it, no one bothered me anymore.  I was happy and got to be pretty good at it.

We tried various others bands.  Some had friendly conductors.  Others didn’t.  I knew in an instant, with the first downbeat what kind of director they were.  Taskmasters never saw me again, and were glad, and so was I.  We finally settled on a church band, and I was as happy there as I was with my primary band.  I had beautiful instruments and we played great music.

After about ten years, though, the conductor retired, and a new guy was hired.  I thought he was okay.  A little more insistent than the other guy, but not bad.  I thought he was reasonable, but my friends didn’t so off we went.

The next band I hated immediately.  The director had a ramrod up his spine as I saw at the very first rehearsal, where I played flute until I could find whether they had a bell player or not (they didn’t).  I suffered through the rehearsals for the sake of my friends, but I was absolutely miserable.

At last, I was allowed to retire to my beloved bells.  But even there, I wasn’t good enough for this man.  He was a professional musician and conductor.  He’s composed and directed movie scores.  I was never going to live up to his expectations.  I begged my friends to let me go but they wouldn’t hear of it.  Some nights, I went home crying.  It was like I was 9 years old again with my old music teacher.

Finally, he went whole hog in browbeating me before the entire band.  I’d missed a triangle roll.  He accused me, basically, of doing it on purpose.  I apologized and tried to explain that I had simply missed it but he wouldn’t hear anything.  He just went on with his rant.  Why had I been sitting down (well because I didn’t realize the roll was in that section and because my knees freeze up if I stand too long, actually)?  Why didn’t I look to him for the cue (because if I’d realized the roll was there, I wouldn’t have needed his cue because I can count?  I’ve been “counting” – in musical terms – since I was 9)?! 

He carried on some more but by that time, I really wasn’t listening because I knew it didn’t matter anymore.  This was it; the breaking point had come, the one I’d warned my friends about.  He’d already done this to me a number of times.  One more time, and I’d be done.

No one likes to have to “bell” their friends.  However, this was just no fun anymore.  This guy was simply too serious for me.  How many times had I had to say it to them?  I want to play on a band that’s fun.  I already have a job and this band was becoming more and more like a chore.  What’s more, I was losing my confidence, so that even on the fun band, I was hitting wrong notes and hesitating where I hadn’t in the past.

But I worried what my friends would say.  I already knew they wouldn’t support me.  Would they also “unfriend” me?  I didn’t know what to do.

So I did what I always do in those cases.  I turned to the best source first – God.  I asked Him if there wasn’t some way He could release me from this misery – without losing my friends.  But He said there was nothing He could do; that it was up to me.  In this case, I had to have the courage to free myself.  He showed me Bible verses where it says no person should be enslaved to another human being.

I was also quite hurt.  I knew that I wasn’t a first-class musician.  I’ve never claimed to be.  I’ve never wanted to be.  Yet for whatever skills I had, I still loved making music.  What made musicians the way they were?  Why do they insist on being so cruel to others?  I felt about two inches small and found myself so sad that I wasn’t considered “good enough” to make music that I wept.

Two minutes later, right on cue, Mom called.  Mom to the rescue.  I told her what happened and how I was debating whether to go to the concert or not.  I didn’t want to.  She said she didn’t think I should.  If I did, she said, the other musicians would have no respect for me, and this director would just consider it an open invitation to abuse me.
Then we discussed my friends.  But I remembered them discussing the day before how one of our members has made a decision of which her grown son disapproves.  She said that that was too bad for him; that it was time for her to do what was best for her.

God and Mom were right (and Grandma, too.  She said in a dream that I shouldn’t stay with this band, that this director is wrong.  Perfection is important but so is enjoying the music and you can’t enjoy or play well if you’re nervous all the time).  He will never respect me, no matter what.  The musicians would be appalled if I returned, thereby letting him get away with such behavior.  Nor would I have any respect for myself.

We had two concerts yesterday, the first with the fun band.  Finally, I told my friends there was no way I was going to that other band concert or in fact, going back to that band at all.  We aren’t being paid for either of these bands.  I don’t tolerate such behavior in my paid job; I certainly won’t tolerate verbal abuse from a community band director.  He’s the way he is, that’s all, and I don’t want to spend my life trying to deal with it.   I expect God made him the way he is for a reason, too.  After all, it’s one thing to make mistakes on a community band, but people going to concerts, Broadway shows, or buying CDs aren’t going to be too happy hearing an orchestra that sounds like the Hooterville Band.

His bad moods, too, are probably reflective of the fact that he teaches music in a middle school.  Can anybody say “ephebiphobia”?  Then, too, the room this community band rehearses in is in a basement and the acoustics are dreadful.  The sound bounces off the front wall, where the director stands, and goes all the way back, where I can feel the vibrations right through my fingers.  I can only imagine what it’s like for this poor guy, who gets it front and back.  No wonder he’s such a grouch.

My friends actually took the decision respectfully, possibly because I didn’t beg them.  I told them matter-of-factly.  I felt like two tons of weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  After they went on the second concert, I danced around my house for joy, getting all the housework finished that would have been neglected had I gone on to that other concert.

Sometimes all it takes is a little extra courage and a talk with God (and Grandma and Mom!).


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