At first glance, I saw a sea of confusion, an orchestrated commotion of kids laughing, singing, screaming, playing the piano and banging on bells and drums. Music was definitely in the air in the band room of La Cañada High.
After a second glance, I began to see the very tonic that binds us to existence. It was life! I thought of the momentous impact that LCHS teachers have in shaping this life.
In a calm yet convincing manner, Kyle Smith, conductor and teacher of the 7/8-orchestra, symphony, and band, patiently garnered the children's attention. It was easy to decipher the genuine affection he held for his rambunctious musicians. Together with the string and wind ensembles, Smith carefully analyzed the 7/8 Christmas performance of the previous night. A dialogue ensued on the subtleties of music, of which I had little knowledge.
I am not a stranger to music. In the 1930s my mother sang Italian songs and played the piano on the radio in Fairmont, W. Va. She taught me how to find my way around a keyboard. I became the life of the party in many honky-tonk bars throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asia.
When my children enlisted in the LCHS 7/8 orchestra, they had already mastered the various renditions of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star;" they were indeed musical savants. However, my expectations of a bunch of little kids sporting violins, cellos and violas dressed in black and white were marginal.
After attending my first 7/8 concert, I realized that the power of music is a gift and regardless of age, a gifted teacher can transform the collective efforts of a bunch of kids into a synchronized ensemble of sound, movement and deportment.
The performance of the musicians gave credence to conductor Leopold Stokowski's thought that, "A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence."
Trying to understand the Zen of the musicians' transformation from rambunctious children to performers, I had a million inquiries for Smith. My questions were complex. His answers were simple, yet poignant.
"I want the kids to have fun and be excited about music," he said. "Enjoying and appreciating the various genres of music is continuous throughout life, and as a teacher, I have to keep them interested."
As our conversation progressed, I realized that the children were just not learning how to play music. Smith's methodology was eclectic.
"The children listen to music from classical to pop, they learn about the composers and the impetus of their creations. They are expected to be professionals and learn to sit, dress, enter and leave the stage, and maintain focus," he said.
The process of how one finds their passion in life fascinates me. Not everyone can say that they truly love what they do. Smith spoke fondly of his personal experience as a student in the 7/8 music program at Oak Avenue Middle School in Temple City here in the Southland. He became proficient in the trumpet and slowly developed a philosophy that would one day define him as a teacher. "My teachers…opened my world up to music and gave me a place where I belonged," he said.
"Students need a safe place, a sense of home, a place where they can develop their identity and explore their interests," he said.
I realized then that the band room at LCHS is much more than a place to congregate.
I am not an aficionado of music, but I recognize passion and vitality when I see it. The orchestrated movement of wind and strings makes the little kids of the LCHS 7/8 music program sheer pageantry.
As Smith and I concluded our conversation, I found the Zen that I sought hidden in his words. "Music gave me something I am passionate about. I am one of the lucky few who does something ever day that I like doing."
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.