Written By Eming Liu
Obliviously, I walk into the band room, glance at the screen hanging above the board projecting our schedule for the day, and realize apathetically, it’s Thursday, “listening journal” day. Amongst the list of songs we were to play for the hour, was a set of blue lines, indicating a lecture before going through our routinely scale warm up and tuning.
The saxes, loud and goofy as ever, are still scrambled and dispersed throughout the front of our ensemble (saxes nearest to the audience, behind them the trombones, and trumpets in the back, with the rhythm section to the side). Following them is the juxtaposed interaction of trumpets slyly laughing with them, maintaining a reserved, cleverly quiet stance. As usual, the trombones and the rhythm section are the last to finish setting up.
A few seconds after the bell rings, the door to the band room’s office swings open, too heavy and slow for a dramatic entrance; but the presence of our new band director, Mr. Torres, is enough for us to find our seats, prepare our pencils and pens, and expose a fresh page of paper in our journals.
Last semester was all about the different styles of jazz, this semester, we’ve graduated to learning more about different musicians for each instrument. Given that we’re already 5 weeks into the new year, we’ve already gone down the line of saxes, trombone, and trumpet artists.
However, today was a much more personal lesson as our teacher paced in the front of our stands (that we make shift into tables). Displayed on the tv that previously held our schedule, was the slide show he prepared. After going through the same familiar sequences to remind us of the previous weeks of artists we’ve heard, he reveals a man’s face. This week, we were to learn of a piano player, Bill Evans.
As usual, Mr. Torres went through the background of Evans, where he grew up, how he made a name for himself; but, before delving into actually listening to the piece, he remained in front of our stands, away from the laptop where he could press “play”, and began with…
“I don’t think I’ve told you guys about this before…”
He brought us to his sophomore year, when he was, in his own words, “a stupid teenager”. A few of the sophomores around us chuckled in relatability to his age, finding another brief connection bonding them closer to Mr. Torres and his story. He continued, now bringing up his high school band director, who we’ve heard glimpses of before.
His band director gave him a burned CD copy of the album Alone by Bill Evans. During this segment, he glazed over in repetition “I was dumb, I was a dumb teenager”, explicitly telling us his regrets in not listening to the album till a year after it was handed to him.
To him, that album was life changing, and further expanded the doors of music for him to purely dive into.
As a student in his class, though not even completed a full year, we’ve all witnessed his passion and wide spectrum of knowledge when it comes to music. It continues to shock me when I listen to him gush over modern bands or old recordings from past generations. Before meeting Mr. Torres, I have never seen anyone who has truly earned the respect to fully reflect with so much emotion, vulnerability, and complete knowledge of music, especially in jazz.
To imagine a timeline where he hadn’t heard this album, and induce a possibility where there wasn’t a chance for us to be exposed to someone who deeply, genuinely loves music and can express it in such a contagious manner troubles me.
Continuing with his story, two months after graduating from his high school, his band director died.
The room, though already respectively quiet, froze, with no more shuffling, light pats on the strings of the guitar, or small taps on the drumset. You could hear the flute section in a middle school band (badum tss).
“It was a rough time for me” he went on, but we were already sympathetic to how close this album held in his heart.
Before playing the piece, he gave his final statement, something never explicitly exposed to us, and required a new sense of vulnerability and trust between students and teachers.
Walking away from class that day, we learned his intentions of becoming a music teacher. His goal was to provide the same opportunities, not only the resources to become a better musician, but also the same passion and love he built himself. He mentioned expanding our music program to truly become the best it can be, for that is what brings out the brightness and spark a fire in young musicians.
Being able to understand a teacher’s intentions and see that there is hope to authentically love your job is so inspirational towards teenagers, who many still have a long path to follow and carve their own interests.
It’s not in every school you find teachers who truly love what they do, and there’s so much to say about my respect for those individuals, but that’s for another day.
Finally, he ended his lecture, mentioning how he wanted to share his love for music, in a way, to pay tribute to his high school band director, and for us to carry on his legacy.
As we listened to the piece, I carried on writing frantically in my journal, following all the prompts laid out for us to follow. How does this piece make you feel? What does this piece remind you of?
After the song was over, we went on to share what we wrote (with someone not in our section 😉 ) and bee lined to Mr. Torres waiting at the edge of the class with a stamp of hand with the “okay” sign (of which he usually stamps upside down on our papers).
What caught my attention this particular day was his initial pause when checking my journal. Usually, checking for the correct instructed format only took a couple seconds before he gently stamped the corner of the page and gave a sly smile when we looked at the red inked hand.
However, he continued to hold my book as his eyes travelled across the page, and then move on to the next. I was shocked. He was reading my prompt! I understand it is such a small and simple action, especially for a teacher who’s job is literally to check our work, but given that this is the first time I’ve seen him read anything I wrote had me speechless. It’s just, already being overwhelmed with other students swarming him for stamps gave him little time to read each single one, and the act of taking the time to read mine in its entirety was so humbling, specifically coming from someone I already highly respect.
After stamping it, he apologized and defended his consideration, then furthered to compliment me on my writing, saying how he liked reading my prompts.
I mean to include this portion of the article, not to display and build my ego, but to recognize a moment in a sequence of downfalls where I am so touched and proud of. I present the past few paragraphs sincerely and as modestly as I can, while containing my aftershock of excitement and flattery.
So for that, thank you Mr. Torres for inspiring me, as your high school band teacher did, and sparking this spontaneous desire to write this article and carry on the legacy.
I recommend checking out the album, and the song we listened to in class that day: A Time for Love by Bill Evans (Alone).
P.S Flutes I love you, so much respect for Katie and Payton in forming a great section. Please take my joke lightly, I’m merely poking fun 🙂