I love Christian Emmett’s blog Adventures and Insights because he is Australian and many of the things he shows me, I haven’t seen before. Plus when I read his posts, I hear them in an accent that sounds incredibly sexy. When I’m wearing six layers of clothing here in Rochester, I like knowing that it is summer Down-Under.
Christian writes with heartbreaking sincerity. Whether he is writing about Christmas remembrances or favorite bands or old lovers, I admire this about him. Please read one of his most wonderful pieces “Something Needs To Be Undone.” And follow him on Twitter at @ChristianEmmett.
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A Lesson From Music To Life
When I started high school, coincidence had Mrs. Smith change teaching jobs. She had been my music teacher during primary school and when I showed up for my first music class in 1989 I was greeted by the very same woman who taught me to sing “Day-O” and had our concert band watch “An American Tail” so that we could better play the song “Somewhere Out There”. Naturally I was a little surprised to see her but at the same time there was a measure of comfort in having a familiar face in a new environment.
In addition to being our music teacher, Mrs. Smith also assisted with the school bands. She had a real love for music, something that she tried to pass on to all her students. Her passion for music was balanced with a no-nonsense attitude, which made her a brilliant teacher – at least in my mind.
In high school, I was introduced to the tenor saxophone and became part of the concert band. The majority of my time was spent playing support to our talented altos, and I didn’t mind it at all. It meant that I could afford to be a little lax with my practice because all I really had to do was perform simple, fluid combinations of notes that were never designed to be heard above the other instruments.
The band played concerts and eisteddfods, competitions were won and lost and all the while I continued to cruise through the whole experience. Much like life, however, the concert band can be an unpredictable creature and there came a time when I faced a significant challenge. One of the songs that had been chosen for the band was “Wipeout” by the Surfaris and I was to play the most important part.
I took the music home and proceeded to completely freak out. I practiced as best I could but knew I needed more before I could do justice to the tune and the band.
When we started practice the next week, things began well enough. We played through our opening pieces successfully and I felt somewhat ready for a run-through of our signature tune. Of course, when life wants to test you it never does half a job. I may have been ok if I had been able to remain seated like everyone else. Instead, our conductor told me to stand up so that I could best perform my solo through better posture.
Nerves overwhelmed me. I stood up as the band began to play. I took the mouthpiece between my now parched lips and began to blow. Stricken with panic, my fingers spasmed over keys as the sound of a dying goose emanated from the bell of the instrument. Things went from bad to worse as I struggled through my solo and as the conductor called the band to a halt, I gave in to embarrassment as decided to quit the band.
It was at this moment that Mrs. Smith stepped in. We took a short recess and she guided me outside. She asked me about my practicing and I sputtered out that I had practiced but I couldn’t do it. I told her that I was no good and that I wanted to quit the band. They would be able to find someone to replace me easily enough.
For the look I got from her, she may as well have slapped me across the face. Mrs. Smith shook her head and spoke simply, her calm voice reeling in my sense of failure and replacing it with some common sense and compassion. I had always pressured myself to be the best and on occasions where I was put on the spot I always faltered. Mrs. Smith told me that all I needed to do was keep practicing. To relax, try again and not to worry about what everyone else was doing or thinking.
I did just that. I practiced that piece until I could almost do it blindfolded. We rocked the Eisteddfod that year.
I never took the time to thank Mrs. Smith for her support in that crucial moment, but I walked away from the experience armed with the knowledge that even though I will occasionally fail – it’s okay.
I know you rocked it. You’ve got music in your soul (I’ve seen the Friday dance videos). This is such a timely post for me — I’ve been truly struggling with teaching my kids that it’s okay to fail. (Probably because I struggle to remember that myself.)
Accepting that failure is a part of life is the only way we’ll allow ourselves to live fully and rock life’s Eisteddfods — a word I had to google, by the way.
Thanks also for the link. I’m following him now. I’m such a sucker for a good Aussie accent.
Thanks Amy, accepting failure is something that every successful person needs to master. I hate to sound like an old man, but I think it’s becoming extremely hard to teach kids about failure nowadays, I applaud your efforts!
Renée certainly has music in her soul and she’s a real inspiration to everyone around her. Thanks also for visiting my blog – I’ll be writing again very soon, I promise!
So hawt. Go read about all the “big things” in Australia” — Awesome. IYKWIM.
It is teachers like Mrs. Smith who make all the difference.
Absolutely Kate, I am very glad to have had teachers like Mrs. Smith around as I was growing up. Teachers like her DO make all the difference. Tahnks for commenting. 🙂
Thanks for the post. it is a good one. I too remember the band days, they were fun. Thanks also for the link. Makes me want to go to Australia
Thanks for reading and commenting, Ray. When I think back, the old band days were a real blast. There’s something extra special about the creative arts I think. And visit any time, we’d love to see you in Australia!
My husband Danny was in a rock band that played Wipe Out, but he just told me that he was a singer/dancer so had it pretty easy! Hahaha! I think we have all hit walls before and almost quit. It is wonderful when someone is there for us!
It really is great to have someone watching out for us, isn’t it? Those walls can seem impossible to break down if we’re looking at them on our own. Having an extra pair of hands or two definitely helps!
Renée, thank you so much for allowing me to be part of such a wonderful group of writers. I have to write a link on my page that does you justice – something that unfortunately will have to wait until I’ve slept for a few hours.
Christian, first of all, I still owe you a prize! It’s coming. Really. Someday. I’d love to deliver it, but I’ve only ever been to WA (the Freemantle Doctor!)
Love this lesson learned. I sometimes wonder what my students will say about me, especially the ones who weren’t the writers or the readers. I’ve been lucky to have some kind notes. But this post? Rocks. 🙂
Haha, I’m looking forward to receiving it whenever it arrives – even if it’s psychically. Please do let me know if you are ever headed to Australia – I would LOVE to show you around!
I’m sure that all your students will have wonderful recollections of you; I expect that you’re one of the most important (and fun!) influences in their lives. I’m glad you appreciate the post; it means a lot to me to receive your praise! 🙂
I completely butchered a song at the beginning of my senior recital for piano, and it was mortifying. My hands were shaking uncontrollably and I wanted to stop and let the room sink into silence and then burrow to the center of the earth.
I finished the piece, took a little breather, and went on. The rest of the recital went fine, and I had the added bonus of starting on a low note so everything else was uphill.
I am so glad that you continued – many wouldn’t have! I’ve always been envious of people who have a talent for the piano, I’ve never had the co-ordination for it myself. I really admire your courage; being out there on your own would have been incredibly unnerving!
I’m so glad you are here today. I played the flute and the piano, but I really wanted to play the drums. Back in the day, they saved all the percussion instruments for the boys. That sucked.
My husband is a great guitar player, and I used to love to watch him play out. Once, he botched the Theme Song to David Letterman so badly, it was so embarrassing! I don’t know how he went on. He just laughed abd shook out his hands and kept playing. And the rest of the show was great. That moment gave me a lot of insight into his character. He would rather perform and have fun than worry about embarrassing himself. I found that trait very attractive. 😉
How could I possibly stay away?! Thank you so much for having me as your guest Renée. Flute AND piano, is there no end to your talent? I think it’s terrible that they didn’t give you the chance to unleash your inner Animal on a drum kit. Maybe the chance will come around for you to do just that in the near future?
Your husband is a lucky man for so many reasons. I wish I could be so relaxed when it comes to public performance; I still get so nervous when I’m up in front of people!
Christian, thanks for sharing this. I can remember a few times when a teacher or someone I looked up to gave me advice that felt like a deep breath and a relief. It’s so important to be reminded to just calm down sometimes 🙂
It is such a help when someone takes the time, isn’t it? I am glad that you’ve had people around you to offer you this kind of support as well, it makes such a difference and really takes no effort at all.
Thanks for reading and joining the conversation. 🙂
I was never in band, but I can so relate to the experience of setting incredibly high expectations of myself (and events) and then having my nerves turn traitor. Your teacher’s lesson is such a great one – practice, do your best, then relax and enjoy it. I’m glad you didn’t quit.
You’re absolutely right, the main thing is to enjoy yourself, no matter what you’re doing. I’m glad I endured as well, maybe I’ll pick up a second-hand tenor again and blow a bit of dust out of the thing. 😉
“When life wants to test you, it never does half a job.”
That’s brilliant. And true. Trilliant, if you will.
I love good teachers. So much.
Trilliant. I love it!
We spend so much time with teachers throughout our lives, the good ones always help mould great people.
Great post, Christian! As a person who learned to play alto sax at age 40, I am all about jazz and anything related to the sax. I do love the bari alot, too. Hope you still play sax for fun.
Thanks Ermigal, I’m glad to hear that you’re enjoying the sax and all that jazz! I went through a grade-school kind of education with instruments, from clarinet to alto, then tenor in the end. My sax teacher was about to get me started on the bari but my subject choices meant that sadly, I had to give up the sax in my senior years.
I hope that you keep playing, music is such a wonderful pursuit!
“…keep practicing. To relax, try again and not to worry about what everyone else was doing or thinking.” — Great advice! And timely, as yesterday I dusted off my guitar.
I hope that you keep playing, August. 🙂
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Nice to see you again Christian!
This was such a great post, story and lesson.
I love the line: “Of course, when life wants to test you it never does half a job.” It’s so spot on and those tests in our youth often provide the most valuable lessons for they lay the foundation for getting older.
Mrs. Smith was so clearly a great teacher for you and I am sure she would be so delighted that she taught you so much more than music. Life, failure, trying and perseverance.
So happy Renee with her fantastic taste in people featured you today. And love you Aussies…your insight is always wonderful and them when you speak, well it’s just perfect:)
Shannon, you are just too kind!
Thanks for stopping in and reading; Mrs. Smith was a teacher who I learned a lot from, even though I didn’t have a lot of class time with her during high school. Music was a once-a-week thing for me, but during that time I learned more from her than I learned from some of the teachers I saw daily. Teachers like Mrs. Smith are rare creatures and are real treasures.
Maybe I’ll have to post a video every now and then to complement the writing and give you guys something to laugh at! 😉
Great story Christian. I also had a great Mrs. Smith, although I didn’t stick with music. But she did get me writing!
I’m very glad that she did mate, I’m looking forward to seeing the results of her efforts – and yours of course! 🙂
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It was my chemistry teacher who took the time to help me believe in myself and saw me as an individual, not just another student. I have been forever grateful to him, and was so saddened when he decided to leave teaching. All I could think about was the many kids who would never benefit from his generous heart.
Great post and great lesson!
I’m glad that you had someone to give you the generosity of their time and to treat you as an individual. It is such a shame when those wonderful people leave, not only for our sakes but also for the sake of others who have one less opportunity to be inspired! I guess it’s up to you now, to pick up where your chemistry teacher left off. 🙂