I’m on wheelbarrow load number 10 or 12 full of dirt and fieldstone, Vermont’s unofficial state crop. I’m trying to level out an area where we’re about to put a deck or, rather, where the nice young man who lives at the bottom of the hill is going to build a deck for us.
It’s been hot and sunny all morning, but the clouds are rushing in faster than was predicted this morning. I’m trying to get a few more loads done before rain moves in.
I’m ridiculously out of shape, my belly resembling the shape of the more bulging clouds. I want to get the earth cleared so he can start after the rain, so I keep shoveling and rolling. As I’m pushing load number 14 to the edge of the woods, though, I push pause.
I step outside time and lie down on a pallet of lumber in the middle of the yard. I’m supine on the pallet, and the pregnant purple clouds seem to tumble through the top branches of the trees that border the yard to my bed. I could touch the sky, if I just reach out.
Wind starts to whip across the yard and the first gentle sheets of rain brush my skin, the smell of the rain infusing my brain with spring. The rain cools my sweat, restarting the world of work and to-do’s, but long after the clouds move on, it will still be spring.
We weren’t late, but we weren’t early enough to Thing2’s band concert to have a good seat selection. The elementary school band is small, and I was surprised by the crowd.
The concert program revealed that the middle and high school bands would also be performing. It’s a small school system, so I was still surprised by the increasingly packed house. We’ve been to a lot of recitals and school concerts over the years, so I thought I knew what to expect.
I knew nothing.
The high school band played first. The elementary and middle schools bands sat in the first row of seats waiting their turn. Mr. Neeson, the band instructor, introduced the piece, a march that the high schoolers will also be performing at the Memorial Day parade in five days. He then called for and got a B-flat from the band before them their cue.
The first notes marched perfectly in unison, echoing through the tiny auditorium and daring the audience not to clap. The band, culled from all grades of the high school, handled changes in rhythm and key, and the Big Guy and I had to remind ourselves that we were listening to kids who weren’t old enough to vote carry on a fairly complex musical conversation.
They segued to a jazzier number, a ‘jam’, we were told, that was composed for the concert. The Big Guy and I gave each other the super-impressed look. Our jaws dropped as the students got up from their places and switched instruments.
“I don’t make each kid solo for a performance.” Mr Neeson turned around to talk to the parents for a moment. “I do require they all know how to improvise, to listen to and play with each other.” Then the music started again.
There are fewer than 400 kids in our entire school system and, from the outside, it may seem fairly homogenous. The reality is that our school sees multi-generation Vermonters and transplanted flat-landers, Trump fans, Bernie-or-busters, and everyone in between. There are kids who get new iPhones every year and kids who may get their only meal of the day at school.
There was no way to tell if the pianist was a liberal or the drummer is a libertarian. The only thing the audience knew for certain was that these kids had learned how to change their perspectives, see new points of view and express their individuality, creating rich, beautiful music instead of just noise.
More than once during the concert, the Big Guy and I told each other that Thing2 needs to be in band again. Thing2’s creative spark burns hot enough that he may very well propel himself into a creative life when he’s grown up — with or without a school program. The performances, however, melded into a beautiful example of how arts in the schools are about so much more than vocation or even avocation. We knew Thing2 loved band practice, but it was only when we saw him and his friends working together to make something wonderful, that we realized the music program was teaching him as much about life as it is theory and even creativity.
The high school band finished, and Thing2’s band took the stage. Mr. Neeson turned to the parents again.
“So how many of you are Beatles fans?” he asked. Every hand in the audience went up. He asked if we knew the chorus to the first song on the album Abbey Road and then enlisted us as backup singers.
The band had no singer, but as the first drum roll completed, I saw a few parents mouthing, “Here come old flat-top”. My eyes were damp as the next two lines reverberated, and by the time the band was playing “One thing I can tell you is you got to be free,” every parent in the room was ready to sing out,
Thing2 is wrapping up his second year playing for the minor-league in Little League baseball. He’s played catcher this year and loved it.
I think this is the year that most parents love watching. The kids still place a high values fairness — something about which we all seem willing to compromise as we get older–andsportsmanship. Parents cheer for their own players, but it’s also common and encouraged to cheer good plays made by the other team.
I love watching the players trying to strike a balance between youthful exuberance and competitive focus. Having done this with Thing1 not too many years ago, I know I’m watching the end of one era and the beginning of another. They’re both amazing to watch.