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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What a Band Director's Death Teaches Us About the Music of Life

The way we conduct our lives will leave lasting impressions on others.

        Last week, a man named Mr. Flannery died at the age of 58 from natural causes.  He had been the music director for 32 years at a high school where my wife teaches math.  According to her, he was a genuinely good man, a well-honored man, and a man who fostered many positive relationships in his life.  Yesterday, the school had an open casket wake that lasted the entire school day.  She told me the band students organized so that there would always be someone in the room with him, and a rotation of two students always guarded the door of the chapel where he laid.  During the Presentation of the Gifts at the Mass of Remembrance for the current students, faculty and staff, senior band students carried in his conducting jacket and his drum for the avid percussionist.  Mimi told me one of the students gave the most touching eulogy reflecting how Mr. Flannery always made time for him, even when he was 45 minutes late to audition for band.  In his casket, a conducting wand rests in his hand that folds across his dead body.

            Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the purpose of life.  I recently just finished reading a book called Gut Check, which is about a Catholic man trying to find virtue and purpose in today’s world (I highly recommend it). Author Tarek Saab, who later appeared on The Apprentice, writes that if he wants to find that answer, he must first start looking at the end of his life.  Think about it for a moment: when we die, who do we want there at our funeral?  What would we want people to be thinking or saying about us?  Will the life we lead be worth honoring for the positive relationships we garnered and the time we took for people?  Will anyone love and miss us the way these students love and miss Mr. Flannery?

            One of my all-time favorite videos online is a TED talk about a music conductor and his message on how his job is applicable to all of us.  After 20 years of conducting music, Benjamin Zandler talks about how he realized that during an orchestra performance, he himself doesn’t make a sound.  Music is being played, but none of it actually comes from him---it comes from his performers.  He says a conductor’s “power depends on his ability to make other people powerful… [it’s] to awaken possibility in other people.” 

(The whole talk is exceptional and worth viewing, but I specifically reference 17:24 to 19:03)           
To awaken the possibility in other people.  Wow.  I love that.  To not only bring people up, but to extract part of one’s gift that is within them for the world to see.  Am I awakening the possibility in my neighbor or denying it?  How can I tell?

Zandler answers: “If their eyes are shining, you know you’re doing it…my definition of success is not fame or wealth or power, it’s how many shining eyes I have around me…If the eyes are not shining, we must ask the question, ‘Who am I being that my players' eyes are not shining?’”

Let’s ask ourselves: among the people that surround us in our daily lives, are their eyes shining? 
Do eyes shine around us?

Are our students’ eyes shining? 
Are our co-workers eyes shining? 
Are our customers’ or clientele’s eyes shining? 
Are our friends’ eyes shining? 
Are our brothers and sisters’ eyes shining? 
Are our parents’ eyes shining?
Are our children’s eyes shining? 
Are our spouse’s eyes shining?

Who are we being to make them shine or not shine?

            For thirty-two years as this school’s band director, Mr. Flannery had students eyes shine all around him.  Yesterday, I heard that eyes not only shined, but glistened with tears for a man who lived a purposeful life.  More impressive than his building of a nationally recognized program is the fact that he has extracted the music out of the souls for generations of students.  He awoke their possibilities.  His song may have ended, but his life will reverberate in each of them forever. 


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