January 19, 2011

"Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones..."

All parents have a narrative for their children. Some are blatant and perhaps a little horrible, like the ones on a television show that Julie and I have recently become addicted to, about the parents of kids who play sports and who live out their own past failures or glory days through their own children. The rest of us watch them and say, "How awful!" and "My little girl is going to chart her own course, she’ll decide what her future's going to be all about, not me." But in our secret hearts, we whisper, "I hope she plays the trombone...." (No, I really do. I suspect Julie's secret heart and mine are whispering different things.)

-- excerpt from Schuyler's Monster


I'm not usually so prescient...


The photographic evidence is a little misleading, I hasten to add here. Schuyler is not in fact playing the trombone, and I am realistic enough to admit that we might be over-reaching, or at the very least reaching in the wrong direction. But we're giving it a try.

In a few weeks, Schuyler and the rest of her fifth grade class will pile on buses and travel the roughly five hundred feet to the middle school (which sits on the other side of a soccer field from her elementary school) for their introduction to the middle school music programs.

(Note to school: When you're done putting the kids on the bus, perhaps after feeding them fried burritos, go to your office and Google "childhood obesity".)

(Note to readers, regarding my own raging hypocrisy and delivered in a Homer Simpson voice: Mmmmmmm. Fried burritos. Do they even serve those to kids anymore? Do I have to drive to a rural gas station to find one?)

But I digress.

Being the busybody parents that we are, Julie and I will be attending this field trip. Schuyler will be introduced to the music ensemble programs, including the orchestra and choir, both of which are areas poorly suited for her particular monster-affected abilities. String instruments require a level of finger dexterity that she would find extremely frustrating.

And choir? Well, yeah. Moving on.

Schuyler will also be visiting the band program, and this is an area where we think she just might find some possibilities. A couple of months ago, Schuyler and I drove down to San Antonio to visit with two of my closest friends. (You might remember the last time we went to visit them.) Jim is a band director, and an excellent one at that, at a high school in the area, and Kimberly directs the color guard for his program. We spent the day doing band stuff. I taught the trombones a master class in the morning (don't laugh, haters), and then we accompanied the band to a marching competition, followed by a football game that evening.


Schuyler had a fantastic time. She bonded with members of the color guard, referring to them as her sisters (she's actually stayed in touch with one of them via email), and she made friends with a young lady who played the tuba, which planted in Schuyler's head the fun (and appropriately Schuyler-weird) idea of playing the tuba one day. We carefully noted how the kids responded to Schuyler, and how lasting her impression of that day has been. The experience made us realize that beyond our own musical aspirations for Schuyler, which may or may not be reasonable, joining the band could very well provide Schuyler with a whole level of support, protection and most of all acceptance far beyond what she is likely to find amongst the general student population.

It's tricky, though, for a few reasons. For Schuyler, there are physical limitations from her polymicrogyria that present some daunting challenges. Her limited finger dexterity probably rules out woodwind instruments, for example, as does the issue she has with weak facial muscle tone. But that very weakness might also benefit from the techniques required to build a brass embouchure, and the trombone requires hand and wrist coordination, but not so much fingers. Her weak facial muscles probably rule out trumpet or horn, but tuba or trombone might be workable.

And I can teach those instruments to her. She already has a trombone. And Julie has a degree in music. If it works out, it feels like a natural fit.

Less within our control is the band program itself. I have, in my years as a trombonist, performed with a great many conductors. I've worked with and known some amazing directors who inspire me to this day, but I've also worked with some, well, you know. There's an old joke that sums up the rare but memorable experiences that many of us had from time to time. ("What's the difference between a bull and an orchestra? On a bull, the horns are in the front and the asshole is in the back.") As far as public school band directors go, there are a lot of them, I'd say most of them in fact, who love working with kids and who take their work as educators extremely seriously. But it's always that nasty handful, the ones who mostly cared about winning competitions and impressing their peers at the expense of students who needed more help, that former band nerds tell stories about years later. A great band director can change a kid's life; I had several who did just that for me. But the opposite is true as well.

I have no idea how Plano will shake out in this regard. The Plano schools are deeply committed to their special education students. And the Plano bands are extremely competitive. It really could go either way.

It's early to worry about that sort of thing now, though. For the time being, Schuyler is trying the trombone, contemplating her choices (percussion is high on her list as well), and dreaming of joining her sisters in the color guard.

As for me, I'm just imagining Schuyler surrounded by people who care for her and who would fiercely defend and encourage her. Because if there is one thing I've seen consistently from band kids, it is how they treat their peers with disabilities. It might be that band doesn't ultimately work out for Schuyler. But I can't tell you how much I hope it does, for reasons that mostly have very little to do with music.


23 comments:

Meredith said...

As a former female tuba player, I say go for it! I remember being somewhat sad when 5th grade band assignments came out, since the bassoon I desperately wanted to play was already assigned, but the tuba turned out awesome.
I was never great at making friends, but I formed excellent friendships through band, especially with the other tuba players, who were generally somewhat odder than, say, flutists. Moreover, my 6th grade solo to La Cucaracha was pretty epic.

Sheuset said...

I agree with you. Our kids are very supportive of each other, no matter what. Thanks for the props. We're both thrilled and we'll help however we can. (That form in the picture is a scatter, by the way. Don't judge!) -Jim

cd0103 said...

Ooh, I think she would be amazing on drums. However, I think you are spot on by saying that the tuba or trombone might give her an added benefit. Either way-- Good luck!

gypsyjr said...

I always kind of envied the band geeks when I was in school. Good luck Schuyler!

Sparky said...

This entry and the photos of Schuyler with her trombone make me SO HAPPY! Low brass chicks are the coolest.

Elizabeth said...

I love that you're looking into this and hope that it can work out for Schuyler. It would be interesting to see whether there are any musical instrument adaptations in the world -- I have to think that given its power, there must be.

Avicile Mohaili said...

I'm a girl who has played trombone for 10 years now. Band geek was definitely the right label for me. I've made so many friends in band and I think it's pretty awesome that you play too! I wish you the best!

Nick said...

High school marching band was one of the best things to ever happen to me; it might well literally have saved my life. I didn't have a monster anywhere near the magnitude of what Schuyler deals with, but I was socially malajusted, afraid of my own shadow, lonely, depressed, and clumsy when I started band. Four years later, I had vastly more confidence, lots of friends, and a state marching band championship medal. (I was still clumsy.) Even though the band was very competitive and I was pretty much inept as both a trombonist and a marcher, I was welcomed into the band as an equal. I certainly hope Schuyler has a chance at the same sort of experience.

kcdibble said...

I have three children in band (in Plano) and am on the booster board. I can tell you that band kids are the most accepting and warm-hearted kids in the district. Marching together in the August heat bonds them tighter than Elmer's glue. When you're Band, you're "Us," regardless of playing ability or social skills. This means that you will always have a friend at lunch, in class, during a fire drill, etc. Yes, band is competitive in PISD but the directors are just as dedicated to creating a band family. I can't think of a better place for Schuyler!

Becca said...

yep, we bank geeks took care of our own...

Shelley said...

As a former female drummer, I remember getting an eraser and a music stand thrown at me. But I also remember the thrill of playing with the University of Illinois marching band, and going to nationals as a color guard. Tell Schuyler to just throw her drum sticks back at the asshole in the front!!!

amylia said...

There is something stark and striking about the possibility of Schulyer making music and loud, raucous harmonious sounds with the assistance of a trombone, or any musical instrument, but perhaps especially one she needs her beautiful mouth to play.

wen said...

If band doesn't work out, maybe she'd be into dance or theater. Dancers express with their bodies not their voices and there are a lot of kinds of dance. And not everyone in theater needs to speak, there are awesome crew positions, plus costumers usually need help and she seems to love and really have an eye for creating unique looks -- and anyway, maybe there's a cool teen cyborg part waiting for her and her bbow. :) Dancers and drama geeks are also fierce and protective...give her some exposure and she'll find a good fit somewhere. Overall, the artsy kids are usually very accepting--nay celebratory--of difference. imho,they won't give a cr@p what the school labels her as. They'll be more into checking out her green hair and stripes.

Terena said...

way to go, Schyler! trying new things and growing up so strong.

every time I hear Queen Teen singing in the bathtub it makes me grin, not only because she's happy singing, but because there's a bit of me thinking about how much I love to sing and wanted to be a singer and maybe she could be one... well, she's deaf so everything is off key, but what the heck, she's happy singing at the top of her lungs.

mooserbeans said...

As a "band parent" you are spot on. Band give you a cliche right off the bat. My 12 plays drums and loves it. The trickiest part (as you prob know) is getting two hands to do two different things. The thing that amazes me is my kid is as clumsy and awkward as heck, no natural rythm, yet she can play the drums. Her teacher last year was awful, but this year she has a new one and he is amazing. This is her only real spot to shine and she loves it. Good luck!

Guerilla Grrrl said...

I love the idea of Schuyler playing drums. I don't know her except through your blog, but it seems like it would be a good fit.

Something crossed my mind while I was reading your entry (I swear I don't work for them, this is not an advertisement): you might want to look into Girls Rock Camp for Schuyler. It's a day camp program (they're all over the country, there's one in Austin) that teaches kids (in the space of a week) a rock and roll instrument of their choice. They join a band, write a song, and perform it at a showcase. No experience is required, you don't even have to own an instrument. http://www.girlsrockcampaustin.org/index.html

One major disclaimer: it's run by volunteers, not professionals. Everyone I've met through Girls Rock (I attended camp in Portland and helped organize one in Denver) loves music, is openhearted, and wants to make sure everyone is accepted and has fun at camp. It's more about having fun and expressing yourself than it is about achieving musical proficiency, and I don't think the volunteers would let Schuyler get lost in the crowd or let anyone bully her. A lot of the staff come from misfit backgrounds and know what it's like to be excluded, and are committed to not letting that happen to anyone else. But they're not professional camp counselors or special ed teachers, so their experience is varied, and with a kid like Schuyler, that distinction is probably important.

I'm taking up a lot of space but if you want to email me to talk about it you can, or email them.

Penny said...

It sounds wonderful Rob, for everyone.

Jim Howard said...

Well, they say the apple don't fall far from the tree.

Rhodamine said...

dammit Rob, what is the post title from?!?! I can't put it together and am going nuts! I can picture the line being said . . .

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

A Clockwork Orange.

Rhodamine said...

THANK YOU! I just had to picture MM saying it, duhhhhh

Gwensarah said...

Rymer's playing the baritone (he started on flute, HATED it and somehow convinced the band teacher to let him switch) he asked about Schuyler earlier tonight before I had read this post, I cant wait to tell him about Schuyler and the trombone. Awesome, simply awesome!

Torako said...

i, of course, must suggest percussion because i am a percussionist.

i don't know if schuyler would be able to do some of the stuff i did (4 mallet marimba my senior year) but on the other hand it might help her gain dexterity in her fingers? (i'm dysgraphic and don't have super great fine motor control and i managed to get it)