Music is the language of the spirits.
(Early 20th-century Lebanese-American writer, poet, artist)
“He hit me first, Mr. Lee!”
“I’m sure he did, Bradley. I believe you. But what did Jesus say about that?”
He didn’t know. No one in the class seemed to know—or wouldn’t admit it if they did. I gave them a hint.
“Remember the part where Jesus says, ‘If someone hits you on one cheek’? Then what do you do?” Some awkward squirming in desks but no response.
Welcome to my world—the world of a school band director. You might imagine that every moment of my life is just like the year-end concert, with all the lights and makeup and the students behaving their best and performing flawlessly. That would be as realistic as imaging that the airbrushed model in the magazine really looks like that when her husband arrives home from a business trip and she’s been looking after the four kids by herself for a week. Life’s not like that.
But the life of a schoolteacher is filled with teachable moments. Moments when the antics and drama of kids present a glimpse into eternity—when you realize the lesson isn’t just about learning the alternate F-sharp fingering on clarinet but about something eternal, something transcendent, something spiritual.
I started writing some of these moments down on paper. That’s how it began. How did it end? Well, you’re holding it in your hands. It gradually became a project, then a mission, then a book.
This is a spiritual book—a book of modern-day parables. It’s filled with metaphors. In fact, the whole book is one big metaphor because music is a metaphor for life. As Khalil Gibran says in the opening quote, music really is the language of the spirits—our spirits. And how can we possibly understand spiritual things except through metaphor? The Master Teacher is famous for his metaphors—his parables. But nowadays it’s a little hard for most of us to relate to searching for lost sheep in the hills or sowing wheat seeds by hand.
This book has parables about kids in school. Everyone’s been a kid. Everyone’s been in a school of some sort. Everyone knows what music is. Everyone can relate to these stories. You might even see yourself in these parables. They are inspired by real events, as the Hollywood movies say, but the characters are essentially fictional. Names, dialogue, and events have been changed or created to suit the needs of spiritual lessons. The characters might be your kids or you as a kid. My wish for you is that you’ll be drawn into these stories and, through them, see your own spiritual journey in a new light.
“You turn your head this way and let him hit you on the other cheek as well.” I turned my head and pointed to my cheek.
“I’m not gonna do that!” Bradley declared defiantly.
The boy seemed emphatic and, to be honest, I quite agreed with him. But I had to play the teacher. He was doing a perfectly capable job of playing the child.
“The point is that beating somebody up or having them beat you up is not a very desirable way to solve a problem. So, what is the problem? What started this fight?”
“I just borrowed Kenny’s pen, and he had a hissy-fit and hit me,” Bradley said flippantly and, no doubt, one-sidedly.
“He took my pencil case. He’s always taking my pencil case. He takes all my pens, and then I get in trouble for not having a pen in class!” Kenny gave an uncharacteristically concise description of the problem. It was almost a good enough reason for hitting Bradley.
I have organized this book to reflect the typical performance cycle of a band program. It’s a metaphor for our cycle of spiritual growth in life. At the start of the school year, there’s lots of preparation to be done: getting class lists, checking instruments, picking music, and setting goals for the various levels of bands. Then we get down to practicing: learning the skills, new notes, and all the things the kids will need to master before our first concert. All too soon the performance comes. It’s a mixture of success and failure. Some things go well, some poorly.
Afterward, we reflect on the performance and redirect our efforts to prepare better for the next concert. This is the performance cycle in band—preparation, practice, performance, followed by reflection and redirection.
It’s a metaphor for all forms of growth in our life. I look at spiritual growth, which is the biggest reason we are here on this earth. Some people have no idea they are spiritual beings, some have an inkling about it, and some realize it completely. Wherever you fit in—this book is for you.
Spiritual development is an iterative process, just like the performance cycle in band. The more we make this process a conscious one, the more we can control and direct our own spiritual growth and not just bounce reactively from one life crisis to another. This book uses the performance cycle in band as an analogy for life’s performance cycle. Lessons from the classroom become lessons in the school of life.
“I see,” I replied slowly, trying to buy time while I thought of an appropriate solution. Repeat and clarify—always a great tactic.
“So, Bradley, you needed a pen, and you took Kenny’s pencil case without asking him. Then you took Kenny’s pen, which Kenny needs for himself. It seems this is a recurrent pattern of behavior, as if you are taking advantage of Kenny or maybe even bullying him. And this behavior stems from your own lack of responsibility, because it is your responsibility to provide your own pens and pencils.
“Let me see . . . we have ‘coveting our neighbor’s pen.’ That’s what the tenth commandment talks about. We have ‘you shall not steal’—that’s the seventh commandment. We have ‘you shall not kill’ which, in its more general application, is an injunction against excessive violence toward our neighbor. And I’m sure there’s something in the Bible about behaving responsibly. Have I understood the situation correctly, boys?”
Having thus flabbergasted them, neither was able to mount a coherent defense.
“Off the top of my head, I think there is ample material in this little encounter for both of you to write a wonderful reflective essay on the moral weaknesses both of you are demonstrating. Would that be a good resolution to this problem?”
Since the introduction of essay writing was still several years in these boys’ futures, they naturally agreed, in more twelve-year-old language, that such a punishment was excessive for their crime.
“I wonder if we can come up with a simpler solution to your problem. Can you boys think of anything?”
In the pages that follow, we might not actually be breaking up fights. But I hope you gain some insight into your own spiritual growth—how you can live your life more successfully, happily, and bring peace to those around you. At the very least, I think you’ll enjoy the stories.
Donald Lee is a spiritual author and speaker. This article is part of a weekly series for 2020 in which TCRN is publishing his inspirational book, The Band Director’s Lessons About Life: Volume 1 – 50 Parables on Life’s Performance Cycle, in serial form – one parable per week. We begin this week with the book’s introduction. You can learn more about the author at his website: www.ComingHomeSpirit.com, or order a copy of his complete book on Amazon.