Friday, August 17, 2007

Seasonal unemployment and missed opportunities...

I awoke this morning to a familiar feeling, like a voice from my past or old friend that returns every fall. There was a slight chill in the air, the glint of morning dew on the ground, and the scent of fresh cut grass and campfire smoke from the night prior. Out of instinct I thought, "This is gonna a be PERFECT rehearsal weather at band camp today!"

Then I remembered… I have no band camp to go to.

As I mentioned a blog or two ago, for the first time in roughly 14 years, I have no marching band job this fall. Not even a camp. Granted, I didn't do much hustling for gigs this year, but I thought I didn't need to, as I was under the impression that I was retained for Lakeview's marching season. Now, I find myself at loose ends for the season.

No staff pass, no free admission to shows, no hanging with other staffers at fast food joints on meal breaks, and worst of all – no professional gratification in seeing my students improve and achieve goals they didn't think they could meet.

Over the past 14 years I have worked with about 9 different bands and a drum corps. Every fall is a flurry of activity and adjusting my schedule almost minute-by-minute to try and fit in my job, band rehearsals, sectionals, shows, my quartet and chorus, family life and such. I'm used to it. It's exhausting and the pay from the band gigs is usually just enough to justify my time off of other jobs, but I get all of the benefits of being a music teacher without the bureaucratic and (most of) the political bullshit.

I was informed about a month ago that I was not going to be asked back for this season to Lakeview due to budget cutbacks. A bit late, unfortunately, for me to hunt for another gig and I figured it was just as well…at first.

No early mornings for camps, sunburn, sore muscles, high school teenage drama, constant shuffling of my Saturdays for the next two months, and missing barbershop chorus rehearsals in favor of band rehearsals. A year off would be good for me.

As I went to the DCI Quarterfinals Cinecast and played some choice selections from DCI Finals of 1992, the bug rekindled – damnit. I got to the theater and began to see faces I would usually see every week for the next couple months – staff from other bands I had either worked or marched with over the past two decades, all talking about their band's show, who wrote the drill, working around instrumentation, etc..

Suddenly I hear someone call my name. I didn't recognize her at first, but given her apparent age, I figured it was someone I taught at one of my previous band gigs from years past. Sure enough, it was Nikki, a girl I had taught at West Bloomfield when she was a freshmen in the sax section in 1999.

After the show and a bit of chatting and catching up, I mentioned that this was my first year NOT instructing. She mentioned this was her first year on a band staff and she was VERY excited about it. After asking for some details, she divulged that she is working for Lamphere's band, a solid competitive band 4 miles from my house. I marched with the trumpet instructor there in Northern Aurora Drum & Bugle Corps 15 years earlier and he is still on staff there. The new director, whom I had in most of my music ed classes at Wayne was just getting things together.

Figuring he had his staff all set, as band camp was 4 days away, I offhandedly remarked, "if he ever needs low brass staff, have him drop me a line," figuring little would come of it. She says that he had actually asked her for suggestions for people to fill that position days earlier!

Um…Ex-squeeze me? Bakin' powder?

I eagerly hand her my card and she says she'll get it to him.

Could this be true? A competitive band, staffed by one guy I marched with and one girl I taught, directed by a classmate, 4 miles from my house and a band camp AT the school?! God is either very pleased with me or planning a very cruel joke!

(Cue pie in the face) wah-wah-waaaah! (mug to the camera)

I drop Nikki an IM a few days later when I see her online to see about any progress, as it was the weekend and band camp started in 2 days. I get a hurried response as she's running out the door to work that the director had found someone else before she could get my contact info to him.

I had made a point not to count my chickens before they had hatched and didn't mention it to many people at the risk of jinxing it. I guess I told one too many people for Karma's taste.

I dropped by the rehearsal on Tuesday to say hi to my friends there and wish my colleagues good luck with their season and the director all the best for his new job. I found another familiar face at the staff lunch table – another former classmate of mine…a tuba player. I now knew who got the gig.

I can't fault Nikki, as this guy was hired apparently just before I gave her my card. I can't fault the lucky bastard that got the job as he has a degree, by all rights should have his own band, and is a fine teacher, player, and a great guy. I can't fault the director because he needed someone and this guy certainly fit the bill to a tee. All I can blame is myself for not keeping in touch with my former classmates better.

So once again, I find myself professionally unfulfilled, antsy, and itching to get out there and demonstrate a proper toe-lift, embouchure, and articulation. I want to get up in front of a section – ANY section – and work them on a piece and hear them make great progress. I want to have a director come up and say, "What did you DO with those kids!? They sound a million percent better on the opener!" I want to have a student come up and say, "That trick you taught me for hitting that high note is working great! Thanks!". I want a parent to come up and say, "Ya know, Jimmy really admires you. You've done wonders with his self-confidence this season. Thank you SO much."

These are the reasons I do this every year. Not the money, not to keep busy, not to get free admission to shows, but to feel professionally valuable and that I am making a difference in these students lives and am a part of the success of a great group.

Guess I need to start sending out flyers and business cards for next year now…

Coming up next: Simpler joys with the family…

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