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.