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Sometimes it takes a certain grace (note) to admit you are wrong

by Linda Hiller

Somewhere along the way in the last 18 years I’ve had the joy of being a mom, I learned that one of the most important qualities in a good parent is the ability to admit you’re wrong. After all, who among us is a perfect parent?

“Where’s the owner’s manual?” we all joked when our kids were first born.

Once, when my firstborn was in kindergarten, he wanted to bring home a particularly ill-behaved boy from class. This child was constantly in trouble, had a horrible background, and I thought he’d be a bad influence on my angelic child, so I said “No!”

But when I was doing duty as Halloween party room mother one afternoon, I saw this boy get teased and fight back in his feisty way, and I thought he needed a friend, so I said “Yes, invite him over.”

To my surprise, he behaved perfectly in our home. One-on-one worked for him, and it turned out the good influence of my child made him settle down, even in class. They learned from each other and I learned from them.

I couldn’t help but think of that parenting model when I went to cover a story before Christmas which has haunted me ever since. It was the Holiday Breeze Tour by the Douglas High School jazz band and choirs, performing for six elementary schools in two days.

If you haven’t seen it, you’ve definitely missed a wonderful, uplifting experience!

Not long ago, my own kids sat spellbound as the big kids sang and played “like grown-ups.” Back then, many of us parents watched with wistful eyes and chills, thinking someday our own children might grow up to be in the Jazzcats or Madrigals.

So, watching the Jazzcats fill the room with their beautiful Christmas songs last month, I had one of those reflective dej vu experiences. There was my firstborn, a senior, dressed in a black wool band uniform, playing for adoring little children. Standing there with my reporter notebook, I had chills all over again.

As the story coverage progressed, though, I found a different sort of “chill” when interviewing music teachers. The interview always started out with glowing terms about the tour, but inevitably a wistfulness for the future of music, especially at the high school level, came up.

Tour leader and longtime DHS band teacher Bill Zabelsky expressed concern about what this tour might be like next year when this year’s seniors – which comprise about 60 percent of his current music department – will have graduated.

“I am concerned, because we’re not getting as many students starting into the program, since we now do music for six months and art for the next six months,” Zabelsky said. “After my seniors leave this year, I’m going to take a big hit.”

If you missed it, in an effort to add art instruction to the elementary school curriculum, in 1996 the school board voted to add art, but to make it work, the decision was made to combine music and art into one year’s curriculum – having art instruction for six months and then music for the next six months.

The result has been good and bad. Having formal art and music instruction is great, but the six- months-on/six-months-off schedule may not ultimately work.

More than one elementary music instructor told me it’s hard to teach beginning band students for six months and expect them to retain their skills, let alone their interest, until six months later when formal instruction resumes. I suppose that would be a challenge teaching any subject.

Unlike some naysayers, I truly believe public school administrators and teachers want the best for students. It’s not that the district didn’t have good intentions when this unique method of instruction was devised. Teaching, like parenting, is an ongoing creative process.

But you don’t have to be musical to be moved by music all your life – lullabies, nursery songs, Christmas carols, “Pomp and Circumstance,” the wedding song … you get the idea.

It’s just like in parenting. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, we make mistakes. And at those times, when we’ve ventured down a parenting path that quickly starts to look like a dead end, the ability to stop and turn around with dignity is almost an elegant thing, deserving a song.

I just hope that 10 years down the line, students educated in Douglas County will still have the ability to compose, sing and play that song.

n Linda Hiller is a staff writer for The Record-Courier.