Band Ten Hut!*

*A command used to call a marching band to attention.

On Sunday, Amanda and I carpooled to the retirement party for our high school band instructor Dr. Kim Smith. Kim (I can call her that now, right? Now that I’m 42 years old?) taught band for a bit under twenty years, and followed that by making her way up to superintendent of schools for Wakefield (thus the “Dr” part). She was in this role when she retired this past spring.

I was thoughtful about this party. I haven’t been feeling much like myself, and I wondered how much energy it would take, being social for hours with people who I haven’t seen in over 24 years. I don’t want to talk about what I do for a living. I don’t want to have small talk. You’re killin’ me, Smalls(talk)!

When we arrived we were greeted by host and (our) high school drama coach, Ron Chibaro, with rousing announcements to find and don our personalized party hats, name tags, and to sign the book for the guest of honor.

Amanda and I were intrigued to see that the majority of student in attendance graduated around the same time we did, and the result was that I got to see lots of people I actually knew!

There were all sorts of decorations, in addition to a poster paying tribute to three students from Kim’s time who had since died. (Taking this in a solemn direction for a moment) Reflecting on this with others, we realized that all three died of natural causes. While very sad, I also found it interesting considering the number of students in my class, as well as in the class one year ahead and one year behind mine, who have died from overdoses and suicides.

Music does not keep your from being depressed, nor does it keep you from becoming an addict, but I do think there must be a connection between joining a group like a marching band or jazz band (or sports team or drama club) during formative years of growth and having certain types of coping or life skills.

I find it thought-provoking.

Solemnity aside, lots of fun and funny conversations took place through the afternoon. After spotting each other early on, Chris, who I was very close with in high school, and I practically ran to each other and our big tight hug melted away many years. I asked for another hug immediately, and when we talked, it was as though no time had passed. We didn’t talk about politics, or current events. We didn’t talk about what we do for a living. (note to self – ask Chris what he does for a living). We joked comfortably as though we had just talked last week. Truly picking up where we left off, making inappropriate jokes that delighted us both.

I caught up with Derek about adulthood and living overseas, Mel and I shared horror stories about being single, Bow and I talked about the pros and cons of various dating sites, I watched and photographed Maria and Amanda cry with laughter over some high school interaction they’d remembered, and I met a woman who graduated around the same time as my brother Christopher and who had been the host-sister to a French exchange student named Freddy. I hesitantly proceeded to inform her “I’m sorry to tell you but he died a few years ago” only to realized hours after the party that I was thinking of another exchange student entirely! I did manage to track her down through the wonders of social media and shoot her an email, “Good news! Wrong Frenchman! I am an idiot and I’m sure Freddy is alive and well!”.

It was not my finest hour, but I sort of fixed it.

I listened while others told wonderful stories from our high school days, and lots of people joked about how punctual they continue to be thanks to Miss Smith’s 15-minute rule, “If you’re ten minutes early, you’re five minutes late!”

This rule did not stick with me, but Steph talked about getting annoyed recently at her kid’s band performance because of its delay and “who’s in charge here and why hasn’t this started yet!?”

As some reflected on the rules that haunted stuck with them, I confessed that when I had stress dreams in college, they were never of showing up to an exam naked or not knowing the answers. Instead, I would dream that I showed up to a marching band competition and didn’t know the marching drill. That, or I was wearing forbidden red socks with my stark white uniform!

Here are some of my favorites from the party…

Amanda and I were among the last to leave, and as we stood in a small circle chatting with Kim, Amanda noted that it was nice to be able to hang out as adults now, to which I announced to Kim and everyone else, (without thinking of course),  “You can say ‘fuck’ now!”

Fortunately everyone semeed to find this extremely amusing rather than offensive (although Amanda did tell me some parents standing behind me gave me a double-take at the sound of the word. While I hope I didn’t offend  – making people I like laugh is worth the trade-off. #sorrynotsorry).

The next day, my Facebook News Feed was clogged with cheery posts from some in attendance, singing the high and deserving praises of Ron for hosting, and extending their continued gratitude towards Kim who taught us so many lessons.

In a time of constant bad news, Sunday was a breath of fresh air.

Here’s what I shared…

My game sweater, trombone, and marching shoes

When I was a freshman at Wakefield High School, I befriended a bunch of the kids in the music department. Watching them perform in the school’s award-winning marching band, I wanted to be a part of it. There was a problem however. I could not play an instrument! After much over-thinking, knowing full well that once I made this decision there was no quitting, I walked into Kim Smith‘s office at the end of the year and asked her which section of the all brass band would be hit the hardest when the seniors left. She told me “trombones” and I said “Cool, can I have a trombone so I can learn how to play it?” She did not bat an eye at me. She did not tell me she thought this was a bad idea. That it would be hard. She did not ask “Can you even read music?” (the answer would have been “no” BTW). Maybe she needed bodies on the field holding instruments – any bodies, but I like to think she just had faith in her (potential) students. I went home with a valve-trombone, and the rest was history. I spent the remainder of my high school career working my ass off with my friends and band mates in both marching band and then jazz band (my parents bought me a slide trombone for christmas my sophomore year and I opened it and I thought “‘Guess I’m trying out for jazz band next!”). I am not just saying this with delusional memory – We. Were. Excellent. And it was all because of her teaching, example, and expectation. We did well because we wanted to make her proud, but even more, she taught us what we could accomplish with hard work! Yesterday I got to see people I haven’t seen in 25 years, and they were all there to celebrate her awesomeness. Happy Retirement Dr Kim Smith!


Chris took a “then and now” photo I shared of the two of us on Facebook and wrote the following, which was so lovely, I got permission from him to post it here…

Thanks Cydney for the great splice job. I look at that picture and remember how heavy everything was back then. The air was thick and EVERYTHING was vital and a bunch of musicians and wannabes (like us) found solace in one another to be our true selves. We were a family united that could take on anything and weather any storm. Faith in that family instilled a truth that people are good and we all need to be there for one another. In the twenty-five years between those photos life has, at times, brought that into question. But the thing about truths is that they are true. They have no opposite. I am forever grateful for those days and that family who I have carried with me since. To see many of them yesterday and be able to reflect on that has been a true gift.

I too am forever grateful for those days. You couldn’t pay me to go back to high school, but I will be eternally grateful for my experience. We were all awkward teenagers once, but being in the bands boosted my confidence and brought me a group of very solid friends. I may not be in touch with them all to this day, but I have fond memories of the camaraderie I found with them. We all learned about “striving for excellence” both personally and as a group with a shared goal, and that doesn’t happen without great guidance. We were privileged to have it.


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