Death of a Teacher

My high school band director died over the weekend, and reading his obituary shamed me at how little we appreciated him during our teen years.

A former military man, Mr. B was on the strict side. He didn’t succumb to giggles the way we girls did, didn’t immerse himself in sports the way the boys did. He was a polar opposite to our former band director, who got into some “trouble” with a student and abruptly was gone. Probably fired, though that sort of scandal was hushed up at the time (nor did we have Facebook and Twitter to help us connect the dots!)

Anyway, one year prior to band contest, we were practicing, and Mr. B had us all turn our music stands — with our music — toward him and try to play our three selections. Talk about a wake-up call! The notes that minutes before sounded so clear and beautiful suddenly became a cacophony; rests were ignored, phrasing went out the window.

‘You should know these pieces like the back of your hand,’ he scolded us.

It must have worked, for we consistently earned top marks at local and state contests.

But Mr. B was so much more than just a band director. He was an outstanding role model, daily living his faith with emphasis on family. A tiny, leprechaun-ish man, Mr. B was dwarfed by many of his students in size, but outshone all of us in his love for music.

Too soon, the community college snatched him away to head up their music department. That, coupled with the fact that I’d headed off to college, left me clueless as to Mr. B’s whereabouts. Not that he didn’t cross my mind occasionally — important people from our past usually don’t vanish entirely.

But I never really said the words that most teachers need to hear. Two simple words every teacher longs to hear.

Thank You.

The entire time I was at university on a band scholarship, never once did I return home to say ‘Thank you’ to Mr. B for his encouragement.

Years later, our paths crossed when, as a journalist, I was covering a local festival and suddenly caught sight of Mr. B performing with a ragtime combo as a street musician.

Did I thank him then? No.

Some time later, when my son Domer was involved in solo and ensemble contests at the middle school level, I was helping as a parent volunteer and who should I see as one of the judges but Mr. B! Yep, he was still giving of his time and expertise to young band students.

Surely I thanked him then, didn’t I? Sadly no.

And now he’s passed to his Great Reward, playing music in Heaven that far overshadows anything earth can create. I hope he knows how grateful I am — how thankful all of us are — for his unselfish gift of self.

But in case he doesn’t — Thanks, Mr. B.