Psalm 98:6 “With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!”
I suspect the author of this Bible verse did not have a fifth grader starting school band.
“Noise”? Definitely. “Joyful”? Let’s talk about that.
Fifth grade is the first year kids have an opportunity to participate in school band in our town. The first band concert represents a culmination of their three-month musical careers. My daughter is one of several flute players in her grade. They prefer to be called “flautists” — the official musical term for flutists, fluters. Whatever. Seems a little pretentious considering three months and a day ago, most of these virtuosos couldn’t tell the difference between a saxophone and telephone. This fleet of flautists and fellow phenoms were attempting to appease my sophisticated musical palate for the next half hour. Failure was forthcoming.
During that excruciatingly long half hour, I was afraid to look around the crowd, assuming I’d see the same horrified, uncomfortable looks on the faces of fellow parents (or worse, find out I was the only one with that look). The cynic in me said, “Yikes! these kids sound horrible.” The optimist in me said, “Yikes! These kids sound horrible. We should get ice cream after the concert!” It sounded like a flock of nauseated geese going through puberty. Then someone handed those geese clarinets to play. If a Gilbert Godfrey Christmas album and fingernails on a chalkboard had a baby, that baby would be a fifth grade band concert. That baby would also play the clarinet. A fifth grade band concert is the food equivalent of a bologna sandwich made from a loaf of slightly expired bread from a convenience store. It’s distinguishable as food, but for Heaven’s sake, don’t give it a clarinet to play! This was objectively the worst band concert I’d ever attended.
The rockin’ recital helped reinforce a truth I had known for years: Kids are terrible at stuff. They can barely play musical instruments. Their artwork is all “abstract.” They can’t dunk a basketball, catch a fly ball, or reach the green on a par 5 in two shots. They can’t grill a steak to a perfect medium rare. They can’t drive a car. They don’t understand U.S. tax code. They can’t recite any lines from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” They should just quit trying and leave these advance tasks to the experts: us adults.
Of course, I’m slightly exaggerating to prove a point. My blasphemous, curmudgeonly ramblings typically morph into a redemption story. We all start at zero. Even the worldrenown musician Hans VerSchniedenhoffer was once a terrible clarinetist. At age 11, he completely botched a simple solo at his first Berlin Junior Symphony concert. He was so mortified and shaken from his blunder that he accidentally knocked over his and two other neighboring music stands. Twice. He barely made it through the remainder of the concert, alternating sobs with untimely clarinet squeaks, practically ruining the whole event for his fellow young bandmates. The experience was understandably enough to discourage Hans from ever touching a musical instrument again. Yet through support, encouragement and grace, he was persuaded not to give up. Teachers, conductors and most importantly his parents did not simply tolerate his musical expression; they blessed it. Years later, Hans went on to be the most decorated clarinetist of his era, winning the coveted “Clari” award seven times and the unthinkable “UberClari” twice.
The story of Hans VerSchniedenhoffer reminds us: We are all fifth grade band students. Every time we start a new job. (Honk!) Whenever we enter a new relationship (Squeak!) Any time we wade into unfamiliar waters. (Squawk!) Initial imperfections can discourage us, but they cannot be allowed to define our future. Some people might disparage us. People might criticize us. Some may even roast us and chide our abilities in a poorly written back-page column of a quarterly biofuels magazine. Don’t give up. Keep playing. Eventually we will make a joyful noise. Footnote: Yes, I totally made up Hans VerSchniedenhoffer. Story still applies.