When it comes to rock groups, it usually begins in school, whether on the playground, “smoking area” behind the gym or in the band practice room. In fact we can probably place direct blame on a zealous school flute teacher for the oeuvre of Jethro Tull. Nevertheless, elementary school band is where musical training begins first.
We interviewed a real living, breathing, honest-to-God elementary school band teacher for this magazine. That teacher (we won’t tell you that he or she lives in New York State somewhere… oops) loves his or her 3rd, 4th and 5th graders so much that we won’t be identifying that person’s identity. Then again, we wouldn’t want to embarrass any specific fifth graders with flatulence problems either.
What instruments does every kid want to play?
ANONYMOUS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL BAND TEACHER: Drums and saxophone
What instrument do you need to plead them to try out?
The trombone. I tell them that the trombone’s nickname is T-bone, like a T-bone steak, and that they’re the only people that have such a cool nickname and I have not yet had a problem.
Do you get many third graders coming in wanting to play the music to a Lil Wayne song?
Sort of. I had some tubas last year ask me could they please play the theme from “The Nutcracker,” so I wrote that out for them. I write out Star Wars for every single boy. And I write out “Here Comes the Bride” for every single girl. Last year, one of our third grade teachers was going to get married and by June, her kids who were in band surprised her and played it for her. They took it so seriously. They had secret practices at lunch because they wanted to surprise her.
Has “cute” ever gone terribly wrong?
One time at a concert, the bass drum player stopped looking at me and started speeding up. Even my boss, who stands backstage so he can watch, was cracking up looking at my face. I said, “Oh, my God!” I thought I was gonna get in trouble. He said, “Are you kidding? That was the funniest thing I have ever seen. Every band teacher on earth has been there. And watching you suffer through it was totally hilarious.” It was, actually. I thought I was gonna shit my pants.
What’s the oddest thing a kid has asked you to write?
It’s not really odd, but a bunch of the low-brass players have asked for “Smoke on the Water.” They actually do make it for elementary band, so I’m thinking of making it for our spring concert.
Do your students behave?
Kids just want to blow on the instrument without paying attention. If I say, “Sit up straight, please,” I don’t think they want to have to deal with it. The first marching band rehearsal of the year is always tough. Getting them to walk in a straight line is a nightmare. Also stupid things, like if a kid farts, forget it. You’re out for five minutes. You have no idea.
What are you most proud of about teaching elementary school band?
The nice thing on the elementary level is that it rids the school of any cliques. The kids that you assume might one day be jocks and mathletes. It’s so cute to see them be so passionate about something together. The older you get, you’re not overwhelmingly “Oh, my God!” about a group.