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.

20 thoughts on “Death of a Teacher

  1. What a lovely tribute you just paid to Mr. B. If he has family they might love to read it. It’s always best to say Thank you in the here in now but our own lives simple get carried away and so we do it in retrospect and trust all our Mr. B’s look down and say, “Your Welcome- knowing you did so well with my contribution to your life….was my pleasure.”

    • Thanks, Katybeth. I imagine he was more forgiving of my lapse in manners than I was! Sure, teachers get paid and all, but it’s hard to put a price on dedication and unselfishness — Band directors, especially, are with “their kids” so much more than classroom teachers, and a real bond often develops there.

    • I hadn’t thought of it that way, Oma, but I imagine you’re right. In the end, it’s the love of music that binds us all together, and I’m certain he was pleased when another generation started down that path.

  2. Sounds like a great man!
    There are many people in our lives we forget to thank until it’s too late. I’ve has two teachers in my life that have made a great impact, and I feel grateful I was able to let them know how much I appreciated them. There were others along the way (and people who were not teachers) I’ve not thanked but wished I had.

    • I’ve managed to thank some of my former teachers, and the look of gratitude on their faces is simply priceless! I’m going to have to look up a few more and see if I can’t spread that joy around.

    • Some do, Lynne. Others, particularly the prickly, stern ones, aren’t so sure, and they, more than most, should hear the words. I’m a big fan of praising where praise is due!

  3. Debbie, what a lovely tribute to Mr. B! Reading your post, we’re left certain that you not only appreciated Mr. B, but admired and cared for him. And even though you may not have said thank you while he was alive, you’ve done so now. Something tells me Mr. B got your message! 🙂

    • Ah, Bella, how did you know just what to say to make me feel better?! But why do we wait until someone is dead to sing their praises? Wouldn’t it be kinder to show appreciation while we both can enjoy it?

  4. This is such a sweet post. I’ve often wondered about my junior high band director. He had cancer and by the time we moved out-of-state after my Freshman year, it looked like he was going to beat it. I’ve often wondered if he did. He made an impact on me because he believed in the quiet shy girl (me) and gave me responsibilities that I never would have volnteered for on my own. He chiseled the crack that helped me break out of my shell and I don’t know if he realized that. (I remember his last name, but if I knew his first name I certainly don’t remember it.)

    I’m sure your teacher had a sense of your gratitude, even if you never uttered the words, “thank you.” Besides, you can’t undo what’s done, but you can do things differently in the future.

    • Thanks, Janna, for empathizing. I knew I wasn’t the only one who’d failed to thank a special teacher — but that doesn’t make my guilty feelings lessen! So you had a wonderful band director, too, huh? Some of these guys (and women) just had a gift for seeing in us what we didn’t and couldn’t see in ourselves. Hope your guy beat the cancer!

  5. Sweet and sad. You’re hitting too close to home here. My sister and I have often talked about telling our high school band director what a great impact he had on our lives…but we haven’t. I’ve even gone so far as to find him through the internet, but still we haven’t. A couple of weeks ago I was at a concert in Ann Arbor with my aunt and the UM band played “Chester.” I saw it on the program before the start of the concert. I told my Aunt the name sounded familiar, that I thought we played it in high school. At the first notes I knew we had. ANd I thought of him again, and thought that I really needed to write to him. That was two weeks ago and still I have not.

    I think you’ve given me the kick in the pants to do that this weekend. Thanks.

    • Dawn, I sincerely hope you’ll write your former band director and share your memories with him! We played “Chester,” too — probably everybody did! — isn’t it amazing how certain songs can flash us right back to certain stages in our past?! Yep, you need to write before it’s too late — you’ll feel better, and your note could be something he treasures now (and his family treasures later!)

  6. Pingback: Totally unrelated | Dawn King

  7. Don’t be too hard on yourself for not thanking Mr. B. As teenagers and young adults, few people have gained enough perspective on life to share gratitude with those who deserve it. I suspect most teachers know and expect this. Besides, I think you’ve made up for your lack of thanks with this beautiful tribute.

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