It’s almost nine o’clock at night. I’m 16. It’s September and it’s hot as all get out. I’ve been outside with 180 of my closest “friends” for 3 hours working my behind off. I’m tired, sweaty, and we’ve done this drill 50 times just tonight. My six pound baritone feels like it weighs 100 pounds at this point. My arms hurt, my head hurts, my legs are jello. I’m out of breath. We stop. Run back, and do the same 20 count move again. And again. And again. Finally, the guy next to me says something to me about the fact that we’ve now done this same running move a bajillion times. “MISS S … we are not done. Drop and give me 50 for talking!” “I wasn’t talking sir” “50 more for arguing with me!” “Uh, yeah, but it wasn’t me … it was B…” “FIFTY MORE!” I drop my horn to the ground, get in position and burst in to tears as I begin my 150 push ups. Why was I upset? Because it wasn’t fair? Because this would be on top of the 200+ push ups I’d already done that night? Because I was tired and hot? Maybe, but mostly because I hated that man. Marching band. High School marching band. And that man was the one person I loved to hate.
Late back from a trip to the mall (because you’re 14, it’s a big mall in a city you don’t know and the people you’re with can’t remember what door we came in)? March across the parking lot at perfect attention and do 40 push ups in front of the whole band. Run into the drum captain on the field because even though you’ve pointed out at least 50 times that the drill sheets are wrong and this set doesn’t work this way, and it’s really not your fault? 40 push ups. Fall doing a drill because the freshman behind you hasn’t learned how to do 6 to 5 yet? 40 push ups. Some guy in your section can’t march for poo and has missed the set you got right? 40 push ups. Messed up the “eights in eights” because we’d been doing it for over an hour and it hurts like heck to break one step down into eight parts and so you sway the slightest bit? 40 push ups. The man was teaching me something. At the time I was pretty sure it was just that he could say “Anaphylactic Adolescent La La Land” a million times a day and punish me. And concert band was no different. I was the only senior in the freshman concert band. Something about how I “wasn’t as committed” as he’d like, and this was for me. Degraded. Worthless. These are the words that summed up some days in band for me. It was him. The director. He had a temper (many broken batons can attest to that), he had an attitude (I think he invented witty sarcastic innuendos), but he was genius.
That day on the bus after the humiliation lesson at the mall, he sat down beside me, wiped my tears, hugged me, and said “you know I love you.” Yeah. Probably so. He cared so much. He never once again was nice to me, I don’t think. Not until college when he touted me as the greatest trombone player ever to my college director (okay, psycho, who are you and what did you do with MY high school band director?) But he taught me that I was good enough, better than I gave myself credit for. He taught me I could rise over any adversity, no matter how great, to really shine. He taught me that I am bigger than any problem and worthy of my own self esteem. Perseverance, integrity, honesty, strength of character. And music. He taught me to love music, to love my instrument, to love a composition for all its parts. Amazingness. The man could play. All of it I learned before I was 18. It really shaped who I am today, I think. It at least has helped me develop my own witty sarcastic innuendos.
Yesterday, this man, this amazing force, passed away. So many people all over the country will mourn his loss. Goodbye, Mr. Dinkins, you’ll be missed.