I am extremely fortunate to be
constantly surrounded by a multitude of remarkable people. I could speak
so much about the magnificence of all of my friends, and how the world is made
better by all of their unique gifts. Today, however, I want to focus on
one of the most important relationships in my life. This blog is about my
friend Gary, a high school band director in Virginia.
Gary and I met on the first day of band camp freshman year at James Madison University. We were both entering the horn studio at JMU, and became friends instantly. We have been major players in each other's lives ever since.
Back in 2007 when I had red hair and Gary looked exactly the same as he does now.
I admire Gary for so many reasons. On a personal note, he is one of the most caring, loyal, and loving
friends on the planet. I could go on and on about how phenomenal of a
companion he is, but that wouldn't really fit into the scope of this blog, so
I'll get to the point: Gary is one of the most exceptional band directors I've
ever seen. He truly cares about the well-being of his students. He
takes the time to learn about each student inside and out- their strengths,
weaknesses, home life, hobbies, goals and dreams. He receives a loving
respect from them, most likely a product of his caring nature. His
rehearsals are the definition of intensity, and he holds his students to an
extremely high standard. The kids wouldn't have it any other way, due to
the level of motivation and empowerment he fosters within them. Oh yeah,
and he's a pretty killer musician too.
Gary definitely goes above and beyond the call of duty of a teacher. Since I entered the Sistema world, I've often thought about how great of an El Sistema-inspired program director Gary would be. Lately though, I've realized that this is not only an incorrect thought, but in fact a mindset that may hurt rather than help our favorite cause of "social change through music."
Sometimes, we in the Sistema world can unintentionally appear overly righteous. It's understandable how this could happen, as we are all so passionate about the work we do. I can also understand how it's possible to come across in this light to other music educators, as aside from using public schools as program sites, most Sistema programs end up functioning separately from in-school music programs. This is incredibly unfortunate and counterproductive, as mutually beneficial partnerships could be created to further enhance the students' experiences, therefore producing a greater impact on their lives. If these two entities continue to remain separate, we are depriving our kids and ourselves of the greatest possible positive impact. My point is, instead of thinking that Gary would be better suited for the Sistema world since he embodies so many Sistema qualities, I should be grateful that a teacher like Gary is in the public school realm, reaching students in the school system the way that I hope to reach them in the civic sector. We are doing the same work; we are merely traveling down different paths to get the work done. The qualities that shape great Sistema leaders are the same qualities that shape great teachers.
Gary is a phenomenal teacher. His kids are beyond lucky to have him. Those students are just as deserving of a great teacher as kids in Sistema programs. Imagine if Gary's kids had the good fortune to be in his band and in a El Sistema-inspired program. Imagine if kids in an El Sistema-inspired program were also blessed to have the opportunity to learn from Gary. Imagine if all kids were lucky enough to receive in-school and after-school music education from teachers who love music and believe in the capability of every child to live a life of dignity and integrity.
Sistema educators hope to instill within their students the ability to create and embrace community, to work together towards a common goal, to mentor, to inspire, to achieve greatness. As leaders, we must exemplify these qualities by working with the existing music education culture, not separate from it. I'm still figuring out my role in the grand scheme of positively affecting the lives of our nation's youth through love and music, but I can tell you for certain that if I end up creating my own El Sistema-inspired program near Gary's school, I want us to be on the same team. It would be a disservice to the kids in my program to be so near an extraordinary educator and mentor and not to have access to him. I know that he and I could find a way to create a sustainable and empowering partnership. In a field that would not exist without optimism and idealism, why not believe that both entities can work together to create a better world?
PS-When Gary approved this blog entry, he said, "I've never thought about what I do like that. I just do what I think will benefit the students most long-term; using every bit of information I have to make what I hope is the best decision." Thanks, Gary, for proving my point.
Sistema Fellow, '13