I’m sitting in the back of the high school auditorium, writing in my journal. On stage, my BFF Nat is rehearsing with the high school’s brass sextet, running through a tricky phrase yet again. In a few minutes, the bell will ring to end the day, and we’ll wander out of the school and drive around in search of French fries. Maybe we’ll head to the drummer’s parents’ house; maybe we’ll just go to Hardees. We’ll kill a couple of hours and be back at school in time for the band concert tonight. After the concert, the band teacher will tell me about a conference she went to last weekend with Ms. Sanyer, my orchestra teacher.
Is it 1996? I don’t… think so….
But it almost could be. On tour with the Dallas Brass, high school doesn’t seem all that long ago. In fact, at a clinic at Warsaw Community High School in Warsaw, Indiana, when the middle school band teacher sits herself next to where I’m sitting with my laptop and journal in the back of the auditorium, I’m a little surprised at her explanation: “I wanted to talk to you because you’re the only adult in here!” I think, “Am I?” I don’t feel like an adult. I don’t really feel like a high schooler either, but certainly I feel closer to the kids than to their teacher. (The kids jump over the fixed auditorium seats and offer each other TicTacs. “I have orange, want orange? Are you sure? They’re maaaaagic!”)
Nat introduces me to people as one of his best friends, and I always add, “From high school,” in the same way that a grandma would talk about a friend from the old country, or a soldier about a brother from combat. Back in high school, the fact that Nat and I have been friends since our own days there seems especially remarkable.
The Dallas Brass does clinics with middle and high school bands during the day, and then brings the kids up on stage at night. It is awesome. In Warsaw, I watched them work with a septet of high school kids, who first ran through the song, and then played back different parts as several of the DB guys stepped in and offered advice. Then the DB musicians paired up with the high school musicians, and they played through the song together, switching off at rehearsal marks, so that the high school group would play ten measures, and then the DB would play, then the high schoolers…. What an amazing experience for those kids.
I thought about myself in high school, and how incredible it would have been to have a professional writer sit down next to me and give me feedback about what I was doing. I decided that if this whole writing thing pans out for me – or should I say, when this writing thing pans out – when it’s time to give readings and do book signings – I want to do the same thing for kids, to give writing clinics and sit down next to kids and write with them. Like the Dallas Brass, I want to give kids the message that you can follow your passion and make a career of it.
It was fun to watch people come up to Nat after the shows and ask for his autograph. Some of the teenagers, especially, came up with Youngblood Brass Band CDs and shyly asked if he’d sign them, as if concerned that they were breaking some rule by asking for an autograph on a non-Dallas Brass CD. To some of them, he’s this really cool, talented guy who just played a killer show. To others, he’s an idol. To me, he’s the guy who gave me feedback on my college application essays, who competed with me to see who could write a better paper title in English class (his titles took up entire pages; mine featured clip art of rats), who went to the Mustard Museum with me and patiently listened to the founder recite Shakespeare while I laughed and laughed.
The last day with the band, we went to a high school a few towns over from where Nat and I grew up. Hanging in their gym were banners from all the schools in their conference, including our alma mater. (“Panther pride!” I said, elbowing him in the ribs. He shrugged, laughing. “Nope. I got nothing.”) I remembered a day in 1995 or 1996, standing outside the doors of Oregon High School’s cafetorium with Nat, talking about our future. I wanted to be a writer… and a teacher… and he wanted to be a musician. From there, our futures seemed far off, hazy, abstract: the realm of what might be, what could be. In high school, among hundreds of teenagers who didn’t think much beyond the next day or week, who didn’t care about the world outside the fluorescent hallways and dingy lockers of our daily lives, Nat and I were kindred spirits. Even as teenagers, we each felt we had a calling in life, a dream to follow. He wanted to be a musician, I wanted to be a writer.
Twelve years later, back in high school, it seems that we’ve fulfilled the promises we made to ourselves long ago. Now here we are again, still artists, still friends. My favorite high school freshman recently said that she has a friend just like that. “He wants to be a musician, and I want to be a writer!” Awesome, I said. It may seem hard to believe now, at fifteen, but know that whatever you plan and dream now can actually come true later. It's pretty amazing when it does.