When I was contacted by another former field commander (I directed the marching band in 2000.) and requested to salute his casket at the end of his funeral, I did something out of the ordinary for me. Far, far out of the ordinary. But I felt a specific calling--to speak at his funeral. So I was bold and asked the funeral director for permission to do so.
And he said yes.
On January 5, 2013, I sat behind the stage as the funeral began, biting my lip and ignoring reality as I hoped my ability to fight back tears would sustain me once again. But I was feeling vulnerable. I had almost lost it in the parking lot simply looking at the band room doors. So I prayed.
God. I need to do this. I need to have the strength and peace to deliver these words to honor this man. Please help me not to cry. When I am done, I can sob my face off, but just let me finish.
I kid you not--I immediately felt peace.
But then my throat got an itch.
Okay, God--me again. One more thing. Now please clear this nervous itch so that the words are strong and clear. That's really it this time. Thank you.
And He granted that request as well.
The minute I walked off stage, seeing my mom and older brother sitting with the current band, I began the waves of sobbing, which roared up again when the band (present members as well as graduates from many years before) began to play "Amazing Grace," the same variation with the same saxophone solo I had played nearly thirteen years before.
What do you say when you want to honor someone who touched your life for eighteen years? Who brought passion and wisdom to music, one of your greatest life loves? How can you come up with words that will do justice? You cannot. You don't. You quote his.
And I did.
Below is what I shared last week at the funeral of one of my greatest mentors. I apologize for the lengthy post, but I think reading the life lessons he instilled in me--and hundreds of other band students--will be worth your time. On a final introduction note, I gave Mr. Jack a typed and framed version of the main points from my speech in 2001. Today, I learned that my gift was still in his band office, found by his best friend as he gathered Mr. Jack's belongings to return to his children. I hope Mr. Jack knew that I still live his influence even twelve years after having him as my official teacher.
When I first heard Mr. Jack was seriously ill, I had mixed emotions. I couldn’t concentrate on the sadness for a while, with Christmas break coming to an end and a house full of sick babies. Life can have a way of getting in the way.
But I did begin remembering. I had band with Mr. Jack from 6th-12th grade. That is 7 years with the same teacher: in class, through practice, on band trips. You cannot be that involved in someone’s life without hearts becoming attached—especially when one of those hearts was Mr. Jack’s.
When I graduated in 2001, I gave a speech—in this same room…to some of you—called “All I need to know in life I learned in band.” I found that speech, along with a lot of photos from an imfamous band trip to San Antonio that included seven hours in the airport because of a flight delay. I’d like to share an updated portion of that speech, with some of the lessons I shared that May nearly twelve years ago, and one new one that came to me this week. These are either direct quotes or incredibly close paraphrases from Mr. Jack himself.
1) Whether you think you can, or think you can’t—you’re right.
· In high school, I had this as a Post It on my mirror—with the words “think you can’t” crossed out. This morning I put it up on my fridge. Some of you may have seen the Instagram or Facebook post. Our confidence levels affect our performance levels.
· Mr. Jack gave me confidence.
2) Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.
· I know you’ve heard the saying, “practice makes perfect,” but it’s just not true. If you only give something partial attention when you are rehearsing, you aren’t going to perform at 100%.
· Mentors give us shape, smooth out our roughed up edges, encourage greatness. Mr. Jack—who is still my mentor—taught me how to achieve greatness through diligent practice.
3) Don’t give up just because you fail.
· I used to audition for Middle Tennessee Clinic band, and I never made it. I usually only tried out every other year, because it took that long to get over the defeat—but Mr. Jack kept telling me to go back and try again. Just because you’ve been given no reason to believe you can do something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take that chance. Mr. Jack believed in me, even when I failed. That faith made me believe in myself.
4) Remember to breathe.
· When I would get nervous before a solo or audition, Mr. Jack told me to use more air. So simple, right? Breathe. Life can become chaos—Mr. Jack showed me the importance of remaining calm while giving something my all.
5) Early’s on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.
· I know most of you remember this one. What an important quote! Mr. Jack gave me practical life lessons on punctuality that I still hear in my head every time I’m running late.
6) And, finally, family is more than your siblings and parents.
· I can remember the band being singled out over the school intercom by a former principal for moving chairs in the cafeteria. Mr. Jack jokingly told us to stop being so inclusive and kind to one another. When our tables were full, we didn’t turn away a fellow band member. We pulled up a chair.
We’re a band. We’ve laughed together, sweated together, worn the same band jackets and hats as the generations before us, traveled together, had meals together—and today, we grieve together.
Because we are a family who has lost our father.
It’s not wrong to cry today, and it’s not wrong to be glad to see each other—we are coming together again, though, in a way, we never fully left each other. We have been forever united by our mutual love of 8 to 5, heal to toe (which still helps me walk carefully when carrying a full beverage), common time, “Rocky Top,” and, most importantly, of Mr. Jack, who loved us as well and will forever be the man who gave us confidence, taught us about greatness, believed in us, told us to breathe, made us punctual, and was a teacher, friend, and band father we will never forget.
I had to stand on the director's podium to reach him. Here is Mr. Jack giving me my senior gift (Duck Tape--which held together my first vehicle and my first saxophone case) and the Patrick S. Gilmore award.
following his direction as I play my senior solo
incredibly surprised and completely honored by the Patrick S. Gilmore award
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