Not a Human Metronome · 22 April 2017

Taiwanese-American conductor Apo Hsu in rehearsal
(original size 500 × 418 pixels)

by Alton Thompson licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

I was at our youngest son’s school concert when I realized something that I should have known all along. The band director is not just a human metronome.

If you have ever been to the symphony or the opera or even to a school concert, you see the maestro up there waving a baton. I think of the director tap tap tapping the baton on her music stand to get everybody’s attention. Then raising that baton higher as a signal for the band to raise their instruments to their mouths getting ready to blow or to raise their mallets readying themselves to strike. Then finally, moving said baton frantically and the band finally playing.

I have sometimes mistaken the band director as merely a human metronome when I have been in the audience listening. I have seen the director wave her arms as the band played and saw how it looked like she was just keeping time for her young charges. But at the most recent concert, I saw how mistaken I was thinking that the tick tock tick tock of a metronome could replace a maestro in action.

I usually take video of our sons when they play at band concerts. I have done so for years. I like to pan around the band and zoom in on my kid or sometimes other people’s kids who I happen to see. But I also like to just listen as I let the camera record. I have the camera on a tripod so I can ignore the picture on the little LCD panel and just watch and listen. And enjoy.

I was really entertained by my son’s band director at the last concert.

I need to make a little confession here. Having been a teacher and coach for a lot of years, I sometimes tend to analyze things from that perspective. I have been known to spout off technical knowledge to my sons to help them improve when all they really wanted was to know that I was proud of them for whatever their accomplishment was. My wife sometimes needs to remind me that I ought to just be the proud papa instead of the analyzing teacher or coach. I am almost there now that the last one is getting ready to leave the nest in a few years.

At any rate, for some reason I found myself watching the band director during a couple of the songs. There was a combined band which was getting ready to play at Disneyland. The director said that the combined bands had not even played at least one of the songs together yet. As I was watching and listening and enjoying the music, I noticed something. The director was waving her arms to the beat, but she looked like she was laboring to do so. Her arms looked like they were pushing against some unknown force and that every downstroke and sidestroke of her baton was taking all of her energy to beat it. Then I noticed what that force was. She was ahead of the band. Their playing was just behind her beat and she was trying to get them to catch up. It was as if beating the baton against the air was going to help the band get back to the tempo she wanted. And it did. By waving the baton. And by sheer force of will.

It took me back to my few years in band and a year or so in choir. I remember the directors I had working with the bands and choir during rehearsals. These three men would work with us and stop us when they needed. Sometimes they would beat the air with their batons to try to get us to speed up or relax a bit to help us slow down. They would wave that baton like a magic wand doing magic for the maestro. But during rehearsals, the directors would often stop us. They would let us know what we needed to do to get the music right. We would work to get things right. And I never once saw them as human metronomes, but always as directors. As maestros.

I am sure my directors imposed their wills upon us with their wands, rather batons, but I do not remember it being such a force as it was with my son’s band director. That was an amazing sight to behold.

That demonstration of force of will of my son’s band director on the band made me realize that band directors and symphony directors and choir directors really are maestros. They are artists with a baton. They are magicians. And they are certainly much more than human metronomes.

© 2017 Michael T. Miyoshi

Share on facebook

Comment [1]


Guest Artist · 15 April 2017

Seeing an artist in action is a rare treat. Especially, a painter.

One of my friends and faithful readers is also a talented artist. Mike, who is the assistant principal at our school was a guest in the art class across the hall. Not as the assistant principal doing assistant principal stuff, but as a guest artist doing artsy stuff. In fact, Mike created a whole painting in less than a class period.

If you have ever seen a Bob Ross show, Mike’s painting was similar in some ways. In fact, he referenced the late Bob Ross as one of his teachers. A teacher from the TV or internet as it were. Mike talked about the concept of wet on wet painting and how to put on paint on the canvas in such a way as to make sure colors that you want to mix actually mix to form the color you want, and how to paint on colors that you do not want to mix. It was very instructive and I am sure the students got more than what they bargained for.

What amazed me most about Mike painting in front of thirty students was Mike painting in front of thirty students. They were not all mesmerized like I was (or maybe they were and I could not tell because I was mesmerized), but they were certainly paying attention. Much more than my students pay attention to me. Maybe it was that he was the assistant principal or maybe it was because he was painting. But it was probably just that he knows how to teach and how to hold the attention of his pupils. Maybe one day I will get the hang of it, but I will not hold my breath. (That is another story.)

One of the things that Mike did that I do in my classes is tell stories. He told stories about his paintings. He even had a slide show going behind the painting he was doing. The slide show showed many of his works, which he said his mom loved. All but one, that is. There is one and only one painting that Mike’s mother does not like. He showed it and then told the kids why his mom did not like it. There was the potential for disaster in the reason, but the students were so mesmerized that they did not catch the reason it could have been a dicey subject, or they were so mature that the reason was not controversial or inappropriate at all. Either way, the stories were relevant and entertaining, and we all know why Mike’s mom does not like the painting of the red dress.

I do not know how he did it, but Mike actually talked and painted. And painted and talked. He told stories and taught the kids who might not even have wanted to learn anything. And when all the stories and all the teaching were done, Mike had a finished painting. I do not remember anybody saying a word unless it was to answer Mike’s questions. Maybe it was that I was mesmerized, but I do not think so. The class period went by in a flash. And what was once a white canvas was a finished painting.

I always knew my friend, Mike, was a fantastic teacher. And I knew he was a great painter too. I am just glad I got to experience the teaching painter in action. Seeing Mike paint in real life was a rare treat that I will remember and enjoy for years to come.

© 2017 Michael T. Miyoshi

Share on facebook



 Confused · 8 April 2017

I am a bit confused today. I do not know what to write.

There are days when I know exactly what I am going to write. There are days when all my projects seem to be going well and I know exactly what to say. There are days when the words just flow and I run past my allotted writing time because I do not want the flow to stop.

And then there are days when I just do not know what to write. When the words dry up. Actually, there are never days when the words dry up. I can pretty much always write about something. Or nothing. And even if the words do not make any sense the next day (or even the next minute), I can write. After all, there is no such thing as writer’s block. There is just writers deciding not to write. Or writers letting their emotions or circumstances dictate their actions. Which is, of course, still deciding not to write.

But that is not why I am confused. I am confused because I am not sure what projects need to be done now. I have completed a big writing project. And I have stalled on another short project. (I actually do not have enough source material to continue on that one.) And I have no idea what I am going to write about for my blog this week. (I was hoping to write about not jinxing Gonzaga. Then thought about and rejected writing about conspiracy theories.)

I also had some editing and other writing tasks to do this morning, but none of them got any words on paper. Which is why I am confused. Is writing always writing?

When it comes right down to it, there are only a few things a writer really needs to do to be considered a writer. Those things are write and write and write. Editing and publishing ought to be in the list too, but the main thing for a writer to be considered a writer is that he or she write. Period.

But for a published author, even a hack with a website like me, writing also includes editing and publishing (which includes posting). I have been doing a fair amount of editing this past week and that always confounds me because I want to be in the creative mode. I want to write. I want to believe that my first draft is good enough. I want to believe that what I write is polished right out of the gate. I want to believe that if it is good enough for the internet, it is good enough.

But I know better. No matter how many times I edit a piece, I can always make it better. Even after I post it. Or publish it. I can always do something to make it better. Even when it is finished. (That is another story.)

When it comes right down to it, I guess I am not confused today. I got some writing tasks done. And in the final analysis, I wrote something, even though I did not know what to write. Maybe I am a writer. (Even if I am still just striving to be a mediocre one.)

© 2017 Michael T. Miyoshi

Share on facebook