May 7, 2022
The past few weeks have been extra hard on me, and as I sit here and write this out, I really don’t feel like it. See, on top of everything else that’s going on in my life, my son is graduating high school, and I never thought about the idea that we would be experiencing so many “lasts”. I’m definitely a proud dad, but there is pain that tags along with it. So I think it’s time to vent a little as my oldest child becomes a man. I’m Michael Blackston, and as much as I don’t want to have to admit it, these are necessary events along the path of my Funny Messy Life.
Pomp and Circumstance rings loud and quite obnoxiously in the distance. I used to like that song. It’s regal. It tells a story of celebration and accomplishment. And lately it rudely smacks me upside the head with the sour flavor of truth. Now the song doesn’t ring as jolly as before, because my son Noah is graduating.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for him. Any parent with a strong-willed child who doesn’t like to be told what to do can relate to the sigh of relief that comes with the aspect of never again having to make sure projects are done on time and homework is turned in. We’ve had some epic battles over the years, but that relief is bittersweet. It means we also lose the anticipation and excitement of football season and sitting right next to the band so we can glance to our left for most of the game and watch that handsome boy play his saxophone in his snazzy uniform.
So let’s start earlier. Way earlier.
When I was in sixth grade, the band teacher at the middle school came around to test the students and see which ones were suitable to start band the next year. To my recollection, they gave us some sort of ear test and graded us based on how we understood tones, beats, and the essential elements of music. I think the grades were something like, Superior (obviously the best grade), Good, Okay, Good Enough To Play The Triangle, and Just Give Up And Join The Chess Club.
I believe I was the only one in my class to be graded a Superior. I might be wrong, but I’ve worn that badge this long, and I don’t intend on taking it off until someone tells me differently. I do know I actually scored a Superior, and I remember the band director begging me to join the band. I didn’t though, because I was already going to be in chorus, and I was terrified of learning an instrument.
My wife’s story is similar. I don’t know how they were tested, or what she scored, but I know she never joined the band, even though she has always had a gift for music, and eventually earned a degree in Vocal Performance. She tells me to this day how much she regrets never joining the band, and I feel the same way about my decision.
Our son Noah, did join the band, and began as a trombonist. He liked the instrument, and had a knack for it, but it wasn’t long before we found he was better suited for something else, and he took up the saxophone. He would sit in his room at night and wail away on that horn, actually making the right note once in a while, and we loved every second of it. Once a friend made the statement that he bet I couldn’t wait to find a reason to get out of the house when that started, and I surprised him. I told him it was just the opposite. I often sat in the recliner just outside of Noah’s door and soaked in the notes - every single one, good or bad - that came from the lungs of my son, and out of his sax.
And I wasn’t lying. Kayla and I both found immense joy in those moments, and soon enough, more and more notes found their marks until songs and rhythms began to fill our house.
In eighth grade, he was asked to join the high school marching band a year early, an honor not everyone gets. Next thing we know, the concerts and recitals, of which there have been so glorious many, were replaced by the grueling business of band camp, practice every day after school, and Friday nights under the lights of one of Georgia’s finest, and most notable stadiums, The Granite Bowl.
Year after year, we sat in first sweltering heat, then rain as the season changed, then crisp cold as we watched him play. We sat just to the right of the band and the pride we felt is something I hope I can hold onto until I take my final breath. He would look over in our direction every once in a while, between playing and having the time of his life with his friends, and he would catch us staring at him. I’d give him a goofy smile and look away, letting him know it was okay to be making those memories on his own.
I took so many pictures when he didn’t know the camera was on him, and looking back over them, I see him change and grow from a little boy who struggled to carry the weight of the instrument after a long day of rehearsal, to a young, vibrant man full of confidence to take on whatever the world could throw at him. Before our eyes, he has become a person those around him look up to - a leader. He only just missed getting appointed to be Drum Major his senior year. He was upset at first, but seems to have learned from it.
The band experience has developed a deep love for music of all kinds. He has a wide range of appreciation and you never know what’s going to come up next on his playlist, but specifically, he has picked up the guitar. That’s normal, I know, but my son thinks big, and he showed it in one of the coolest ways just the other night at one of his last concerts with the band. I wasn’t surprised to see him step up there and thrill the audience with his sax as he and three others played in an impressive saxophone quartet, but it was the finale that felt liken a scene right out of a movie.
The band teacher introduced EC Pop - the first ever rock band comprised of students from the band who got together and decided it was time to ratchet things up a bit. They performed Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, and my boy, shiny red electric guitar in hand, walked to center stage as the lead singer and frontman of the group. It was a dream come true for him, and by the time the song was over, they had the crowd eating out of the palms of their hands. One of the students watching from the band section pulled out their phone, lit the flashlight, and started to wave it back and forth as the band onstage rocked out. Before long, people all over the audience were doing the same thing, and my heart was about to burst. What a night! What an experience! What a boy!
There’s only one of those “lasts” that rivals that one, or maybe even beats it, at least in the hearts of the band kids and their parents.
With every marching band, there is, of course, the school fight song. Of all the music that is played, it’s the fight song they know the best because they’ve played it so much. A thousand times, it seems, they blasted out their melodic battle cry to spur on the Blue Devils, and it never occurred to me that there would come a time when they would play it for the final time.
I’ll never forget the way my heart felt broken, and at the same time somehow jubilant for them. At the end of the final home game, the underclassmen stepped aside and allowed the seniors a gift. They would play the fight song one last time in that place. I watched with tears in my own eyes as those kids who would soon have to leave childhood behind, proudly proclaimed with horns, and woodwinds, and percussion, their allegiance to not only a school that gave them so many great memories, but also to each other. Because no matter where they went from there, or how far apart they were, there would always be one thing that held them together. Elbert County High School band, Class of 2022.
We’re going to his final concert tonight, and I’m already in an emotional place, so I’m not sure how well I’m going to take it, but I’ll have to take it. And on May 20, he’ll walk across in front of his class in that same football stadium that echoes with music and memory, accepting his diploma, and resolving a melody that it took years to play.
For Noah, he looks to the future, although he’ll peek fondly back on those times, all too soon remembering them as “The good old days”, but for me, it’ll be a little hard to swallow. I’ll always look back to the boy who didn’t like to turn in his homework, but never, ever failed to make me proud.