Alright, ladies and gentlemen! Story time!
In my high school, it was a custom for the seniors to give our band and choir teachers a gift at the end of the year. Well, at least it was for music nerds like me 🙂
My band teacher has gone by the nickname “Doc” for as long as I can remember. Some of his earliest students gave him the nickname, and it stuck. Sometime during my senior year, we discovered that Doc, whose primary instrument is trombone (same as mine), had never had better than a student model trombone. It was pretty old and beat up. It looked something like this:
Us trombone players call this basic style of trombone a “pea shooter.” The name comes from the fact that you can set a pea in the mouthpiece and blow hard enough that the pea will travel all the way through the trombone and come out the bell. There’s your useless trivia for the day! So Doc, after playing trombone and teaching music for years, still had a beat-up pea shooter.
My friend Paul (a fellow trombonist) and I came up with the idea to raise enough money to purchase a nicer trombone for our beloved teacher. We gathered funds from the students, and then we branched out and gathered funds from alumni and from Doc’s family members and friends. Doc is loved by so many people that it took hardly any effort at all. We bought him a brand new, professional trombone. It was beautiful.
I worked at Chick-fil-A at the time and brought home a huge cardboard box from work. Paul and I put the trombone inside it and then wrapped it like a giant present, complete with a bow.
At the final concert of the year, we interrupted Doc just before the final song. As one student took the microphone and began expressing our appreciation, Paul and I rolled the massive gift box on a dolly onto the stage. Doc (and probably many others) shed a few tears when he opened it. It was a very touching, and the gift felt like only a small token compared to the appreciation he deserved.
We had arranged for Doc’s oldest son to conduct the final song so that Doc could play with us, and Paul and I were able to play our last song of our senior year sitting on either side of him in the trombone section. It was one of the highlights of my high school experience.
Why bring this story up now? Well, I hadn’t really thought about it for a long time. But this past weekend, I was asked to help in the pit orchestra at my high school’s musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie. It’s difficult music, and the trombone players were struggling, so I am performing with them. Honestly, I had a rough time with it, too. Anyway, at the end of last night’s show (opening night), I discovered that one of the high school trombonists is using Doc’s trombone to play in the pit orchestra – the very trombone I helped raise funds for over seven years ago! They (the trombonists) told me that he brings it out during class to play. And they knew that students had given it to him as a gift, which means he has shared the story. I was so excited to find out that he is still using it and enjoying it!
I feel like the gift I helped to give has become a gift to me, in the satisfaction of knowing that Doc has a constant reminder of just how many people he has positively affected throughout the years. What we gave to him seven years ago was much more than a trombone – it was the combined love and support of many, many people who care about him.
Doc is nearing retirement age, and last night he suggested bringing together an alumni jazz band before he retires. Sign me up, folks. I am so there.