Miss McSwain took a chance on me. She invited me to stay after school daily for a couple of hours to learn how to play every kind of instrument available in the band hall. Of course, I took her up on the offer. While there, however, I also watched her prepare the routines for the half-time shows we performed during Friday night football games. Little did I know, those times of watching over her shoulder as she spread out that graph paper were to hold more significance than learning to play all those instruments.
At the end of my freshman year, Miss McSwain announced, in tears, that she was presented with an opportunity she could not pass up. She would be leaving us to play for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. As saddened as we were by the news, we rejoiced with her and wished her well. But before she left, competitions were held for the next season’s majorettes and drum major.
The week before the following school year began, the football players were practicing for a winning season and the band was trying to adjust to a new instructor. However, on the first day of school, Mr. Willis, our principal, announced that our new instructor quit on us. “All band members are to meet in study hall for last period.”
As soon as that class let out, I rushed to the office and pleaded: “Mr. Willis, if anything, this has only made us a stronger group. Give us a chance. We can do it without an instructor. I know we can! Just this once. Please. Just one chance! And if anyone messes up, I promise, I’ll never ask you to let us do anything like this again. Please. Please.”
Mr. Willis spent a second in intense thought. Finally, he shook his head in defeat and took a deep breath. “Okay. You have one minute of my time to convince me and the band that you all can do this.”
With that, he punched the button on the intercom: “Band members, meet in the band hall for last period.”
Mr. Willis stood in the opened doorway, his arms crossed over his chest. I stepped up to the podium. “Is there anyone who would not like to perform Friday night?” (No show of hands.) “Is there anyone who cannot or will not make it to practice on a daily basis or to the game?” (No show of hands.) “Mr. Willis said we could do this, but only if every single person was willing to cooperate and work together. Is there anyone who has a problem with that?”
“Who will work up the routine for us?”
That Friday night, the announcer introduced the majorettes one at a time and they each did a little something with their batons. He then introduced me and I took a step forward, saluting the field. And when he introduced the Meridian High School Band, I placed my whistle in my mouth, raised my left hand and the staff in my right hand, and all instruments went up in perfect unison.
I watched that show on video tape the following Monday. We took that field to perform the greatest half-time show I ever witnessed. Not one person was ever out of step. The legs of the big M were perfect. Not one instrument was off key.
There was only one flaw: The drum major’s chin strap wasn’t tightened properly and, to the opposing team’s amusement, my hat cocked to one side when I took that first step. I heard their snickers as they stood on the sidelines, awaiting their turn to attempt to outperform our band.
That game was the only football game my mother ever attended. She sat alone in the stands, unrecognized by the “regular” fans. Years later, she told me what had occurred in those stands. I suppose she withheld that information all those years to keep me from becoming proud. As proud as she was of my accomplishment, she knew exactly where my heart was. It was with the band. Mom never once told me how very proud she really was... or at least not then.
“There were two women sitting in front of me. I watched them clap for the team every time they scored. I watched them clap when each majorette was introduced. But when they called your name, I heard one say to the other in sarcasm ‘I can’t believe Mr. Willis is allowing her to do this!’ I thought that my heart would explode with pride.”
That night belonged to the band. In all of that performance, I had one memorable moment, one recognizable step of glory. And in that crushed glory, I learned a lesson that will last me a lifetime: The band that performs in one accord will succeed in doing great things, despite the one who is chosen to lead them onto the field. We did it for Miss McSwain! We did it for us!
The Instructor, the Teacher, teaches me all that I need to know in order to perform to the best of my ability. The Instructor saw something in me and took a chance on me. If He didn’t believe I was capable, He’d never have presented me with the tools to perform the tasks at hand. I’ve been watching Him closely, intrigued by His way of doing things.
The principal, my pastor, the one who is left in charge of our group, sees something in the band, the Body. There is an opportunity for us to come together, like-minded, in one accord, and be the best that we can be. I asked for a chance, just one chance, to plead with the band to come together and take the field. The question is, does the principal trust me to have learned the Instructor’s plan well enough to present it to the band?
The enemy will always snicker each and every time my hat falls to one side. But the helmet of salvation is a sure gift of grace. Despite the way it fits and the flaws of its wearer, it will remain! The timely Instructor knew just what size would fit. And He knew that (though it may lean to the side at times) it would never fall so far that it would fall off altogether.