Lessons From My Band Director

Lessons From My Band Director

Thanks for teaching me so much more than the love of music.

We all have mentors, people who change our lives and guide us as we become better versions of ourselves. Mine just happened to be my high school band director, Jon Wright. In 2007, my high school got a new director. Everyone was fairly skeptical, because his predecessor left a major legacy. Needless to say, we had pretty low expectations. However, on his first day at band camp, he got to know us by giving us nicknames. You know how they make pictures and videos featuring “expectations vs. reality” in social situations? This was me:

Expectation: AWESOME! I’ve never had a nickname, before!

Reality: “I’m gonna call you Plain Jane Partain.” …What?

It was that day I decided I hated Jon Wright.

Class rehearsals didn’t help his case. He had ridiculous rules. If we were chatty in class, he would simply kick us out. He was famous for the phrase, “I don’t waste your time. Don’t waste mine.” One summer day, we worked in 90+ degree weather with (I kid you not) thirty-second water breaks because we didn’t work hard enough the day before. And here’s the kicker: we weren’t allowed to turn around and talk to each other in the stands at football games. We always had to face the players and keep the talking to a minimum, because we were “there to support the team, not chit chat with our girlfriends.” I’ll tell you one thing, you learn football really quickly when you don’t have a choice in the matter.

To his credit, he wasn’t all bad. He made these witty jokes that only the top two grades were old enough to understand. IE: To get a more horny sound, stick your hand farther in the hole.

DISCLAIMER: This was in reference to a French horn. He also taught us what it meant to represent something more than yourself. Jon Wright taught me that when you put on a uniform that has someone else’s brand on it, you represent that entire group of people, and that representation better be something you can be proud of.

Speaking of pride, he used to have this saying. When you call the band to attention, the drum major claps a few times to a cadence, then the entire band shouts this spine-shivering word: pride. At the end of our roughest practices, Jon always asked us, “Is pride something you have, or just something you say at attention?” When he asked that question, you knew you were part of something truly special. No matter what point he was trying to make, it always rang so loudly in your head. One particularly gabby week, Jon came to class and refused to speak, even as he conducted his way through exercises and coached us through competition music, fixing our mistakes with the oddest nonverbal cues. When the bell rang, he simply stated, “If I can do my job without talking, I know you can,” and took his dramatic exit. That day, Jon Wright taught me that sometimes the best work is achieved through silence.

One year, I was the only girl to make the majorette line, but he didn’t let me twirl alone. It was for the better. Not only did I become a better leader through serving as color guard captain, but I learned that there is no such thing as a one-man show.

In the summer of 2011, we lost one of our own. It was a devastating blow to our band family, and to honor his parents, we played “Amazing Grace” and the Alma Mater at his graveside service. As the rain poured down on us, in what I can only describe as the most cinematic memory I have, I vividly remember looking up to Jon Wright, my Band-Big-Brother at this point, trying his hardest not to break down and cry. Death doesn’t really have a moral or justification, but if there’s one thing JW taught me, it was strength—strength in numbers, and in the ability to carry the burden of 80 people on your back.

I ran for band president prior to my senior year, just knowing that we were about to have the best year of our lives. Not only were we officially the best band in the county, but we had the greatest mentor anybody could ask for. See, Jon could have cared less how much you knew about music at the end of the day. His sole focus was building us up to become the best, strongest, brightest human beings we could be. Unfortunately, my plans fell through. That summer, Jon called me up to give me the news that he was leaving Vinemont High. He was moving home to be with his grandmother in her last days, and to grow with his family. This was a private meeting with few people, because he knew he had left things exactly how he needed to at the funeral in June. His last words to the Vinemont Band were, “I love you all, so much.”

That was the day I learned the meaning of sacrifice.

You know how they say, “If you love something, let it go. If it returns, it’s yours to keep?” However atrociously corny that may be, in Jon Wright’s case, it held true. When I moved off to college, I got to work with Jon again, and I still see him from time to time. While he’s not my everyday mentor anymore, he did leave me with the strongest memory and lesson I ever learned in high school. There is something particularly magical that happens every time you take the field and shout the word that eventually defines your character: pride.

Cover Image Credit: yahoo.com

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To The Friends I Won't Talk To After High School

I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.


So, for the last four years I’ve seen you almost everyday. I’ve learned about your annoying little brother, your dogs and your crazy weekend stories. I’ve seen you rock the awful freshman year fashion, date, attend homecoming, study for AP tests, and get accepted into college.

Thank you for asking me about my day, filling me in on your boy drama and giving me the World History homework. Thank you for complimenting my outfits, laughing at me presenting in class and listening to me complain about my parents. Thank you for sending me your Quizlets and being excited for my accomplishments- every single one of them. I appreciate it all because I know that soon I won’t really see you again. And that makes me sad. I’ll no longer see your face every Monday morning, wave hello to you in the hallways or eat lunch with you ever again. We won't live in the same city and sooner or later you might even forget my name.

We didn’t hang out after school but none the less you impacted me in a huge way. You supported my passions, stood up for me and made me laugh. You gave me advice on life the way you saw it and you didn’t have to but you did. I think maybe in just the smallest way, you influenced me. You made me believe that there’s lots of good people in this world that are nice just because they can be. You were real with me and that's all I can really ask for. We were never in the same friend group or got together on the weekends but you were still a good friend to me. You saw me grow up before your eyes and watched me walk into class late with Starbucks every day. I think people like you don’t get enough credit because I might not talk to you after high school but you are still so important to me. So thanks.

With that said, I truly hope that our paths cross one day in the future. You can tell me about how your brothers doing or how you regret the college you picked. Or maybe one day I’ll see you in the grocery store with a ring on your finger and I’ll be so happy you finally got what you deserved so many guys ago.

And if we ever do cross paths, I sincerely hope you became everything you wanted to be. I hope you traveled to Italy, got your dream job and found the love of your life. I hope you have beautiful children and a fluffy dog named Charlie. I hope you found success in love before wealth and I hope you depended on yourself for happiness before anything else. I hope you visited your mom in college and I hope you hugged your little sister every chance you got. She’s in high school now and you always tell her how that was the time of your life. I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.

And hey, maybe I’ll see you at the reunion and maybe just maybe you’ll remember my face. If so, I’d like to catch up, coffee?



Cover Image Credit: High school Musical

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