Inspiration I Didn’t Expect. The Authors Collection.
February 5, 2014
I’m pretty sure that negative forces are more catalytic for us than positive ones. I wish it weren’t so, but I think it’s true. I know that in my life—at least on one occasion—a moment of personal humiliation started something in me, something that changed my life in many ways.
I was thirteen years old and in the eighth grade. I was in the school band, but I really wasn’t all that “into” it. It was a pretty good band—in fact, one of the best in the state of Michigan for junior high schools in 1969.
The teacher/conductor was a curmudgeon by the name of William “Bill” Streffon. I always tried to stay away from him—sort of like Jack Lemmon as Ensign Pulver in the movie, “Mr. Roberts,” when he avoided his ship’s caption, played by James Cagney.
I wasn’t all that serious about music. In fact, I had “moved on” in my mind and really just wanted to find a way to tell my father that I wanted to stop playing the horn.
But I never got the chance.
One day we were playing some quite forgettable piece when suddenly Mr. Streffon angrily shouted, “Stop!” He told us that someone in the trumpet section was playing it wrong. There were nine trumpet players. I occupied the ninth chair. Last chair. He each trumpeter played the section, and it finally came my turn. Of course, I was the problem.
Mr. Streffon went off on me. Big time. Oh, it was so bad. At one point he actually asked, “Which end of the horn are you blowing into?” And that was about the nicest thing the guy said. I was devastated.
Then something happened. I decided to “show” him—I’d prove to him that I wasn’t the loser he thought I was. I began to practice, practice, practice…
I got better. One day I “challenged” the eighth chair player. That was a cool band-geek thing where if you could play a designated piece better, you got to switch chairs. I won. It felt good. I was hooked.
In fact, over the course of a few months, I successfully challenged every chair in the section and eventually became first chair in that band. Yeah—it was a big deal. A few months later, Mr. Streffon recommended me to a Summer program at Central Michigan University. The school district paid for a scholarship at his urging. It was a powerful experience.
Why do I remember this now? Because had I quit band and walked away from music, I likely wouldn’t have met and married Karen, since we were both in—you guessed it—a music group (she’s a trumpet player, too, by the way). And music has been such a key part of my ministry down through the years. Karen and I passed it all along to our three musically talented daughters.
This whole story came back around full circle recently when a chance conversation with a member of my Virginia congregation revealed that she was the granddaughter of that very Michigan band teacher who humiliated me. Small world.
I was able to tell her that he kept me involved with music and that led to so many other blessings. It was a very cool moment. Mr. Streffon passed away just last month, and this grieving girl wept when she heard my story. She was so moved to hear about how her granddad had made such a difference.
It’s likely my career path and her life would have never intersected but for that very uncomfortable moment in ninth chair. Mr. Streffon was a critic. But I didn’t allow myself any room for self-pity. Instead, I opted for self-progress. And that has made all the difference.
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