I vividly remember my first high school band rehearsal. I had missed marching band camp, and had to learn marching fundamentals at a quick clinic in the parking lot behind the band room before going inside for a music rehearsal. My timid ninth grade self was not prepared for the deafening wall of sound that erupted as we ran through the music we'd be marching to at the first football game. I quickly figured out that for marching band, you had to play really, really loudly, even indoors! (To this day, I get goosebumps whenever I'm enveloped in sound like that.)
Although the student drum majors were in charge on the field, the band director ran the music rehearsals. Our director, Gene Duman, seemed really old to me, although he had to have been in his late thirties at the time. He had a round face, with a wild curly fringe of hair ringing his rapidly receding hairline, and a happy grin that rarely went away. He also happened to be my clarinet teacher's husband, so I knew I couldn't get away with anything. On top of that, the Dumans lived in our neighborhood.
Now, nearly four decades later, I have a new appreciation for Mr. Duman, and all the other teachers and directors I've had the pleasure of playing for. High school band directors are some of the hardest working teachers out there. In larger schools, like mine, they can be responsible for well over 100 students, from ninth to twelfth grades, in various stages of musical ability. Imagine taking a gaggle of socially awkward teenagers with raging hormones and somehow molding them into a group that can work together toward a common goal, and have fun doing it. He even took us to Florida on the train to compete in a band competition. That's bravery!
Mr. Duman died suddenly a couple of weeks ago, at the age of 76. Although he moved on from my high school after my sophomore year, he had a profound effect on me and my bandmates that has lasted for nearly 40 years. He instilled good habits of ensemble playing, held us to a high standard, and helped us become a part of something bigger than ourselves. Every time I play with a group, I bring a little bit of Mr. Duman with me. (Mrs. Duman too, but that's a post for another time.)
The last time I was in Reston, I knocked on the Dumans' door, but no one was home. I'm sorry that I didn't get to see him one more time and that I didn't get a chance to thank him directly.
Thank you, Mr. Duman, for making band so much fun, and slipping the learning in while we weren't looking. Thank you for giving us a safe space to grow up. And most of all, thank you for the music, even when it was really, really loud.