She Put Music In My Heart

Ann AlfordToday I told a friend that I write when I grieve, there may not be enough words for this one.

Ann Alford has finished her concerto and now she has gone home to play for the Lord.

I was at the dentist office this morning waiting to be called to the back.  As I scrolled through Facebook, I saw a post from my friend Von, about Ms A passing.  I hoped it was someone else, but once I got back to my office I looked further and found out indeed it was her.

My heart immediately broke and I had to take a few minutes outside to myself, all I could think about was how much she loved us, all of us.

We were her band kids, a mis-matched group of high-school students that she challenged, rode hard, and saw reach our potential, all under her watchful eye.

I had quit band in the eight grade, too cool to be a band geek; that is until my 10th grade year when Ms. Alford told me I WOULD be in the symphonic band.  I didn’t argue with her, I just signed up.

I wasn’t a very good trumpet player and years away from the horn made me even worse.  I sat last seat, but she made me know I was where I belonged.  She pushed me and eventually I started to get better.

By the time marching season rolled around in the Fall, I was no longer last seat, I had graduated all the way up to third from last.

Ms. Alford drove us to be our best.  When we screwed up, we ran laps, when we didn’t live up to our potential, she had a steely gaze that could melt the toughest exterior, but we never doubted she loved us.

We were her kids and nothing made her prouder than when we did well.  As she flailed her arms to the beat, that wicked smile would sneak in and the twinkle in her eyes let us know we had it.

One year, as we were preparing for Marching Festival we had been a mess, it seemed like nothing we did was coming together to the standards Ms. Alford had set for us, not to mention the standards we had set for ourselves.

Thursday afternoon before Festival on Saturday, when it was time for rehearsal, we were instructed to meet Ms. Alford at the practice field and leave our instruments in the band room.

This couldn’t be good.

As we approached the field, I think we all expected to be running laps and marching drills, but when we arrived, cupcakes and drinks awaited us.

We got a pep talk that day about how good we were and how if we just put it all on the field, there was nothing or no one that could beat us.  Needless to say, we pulled all Superiors on Saturday beating much larger bands in the process.

Going into Symphonic Band Season, our end of season Festival would be the competition that would prove just how good we were.  Symphonic season wasn’t like football season, it was all about technique and skill, not putting on a great show.

On the first day of Symphonic Season, Ms. Alford put two pieces of music in front of us that had more sharps, tempo-changes and notes than most of us had ever seen before.

If I remember correctly the music was “Firebird” and a piece called “Mosque.” (Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.)

As we struggled through those pieces of music, Ms. Alford wouldn’t let us be defeated.  We were challenged in ways we never imagined and finally the notes started to fall into place, the tempos came and all those sharps didn’t seem so difficult any longer.

By the time Festival rolled around, we knew we were good, we knew we had it and so did she.  We walked onto that stage knowing we were about to blow the roof off and we did.

The smile on Ms. Alford’s face when we finished will always be etched on my heart.  Once again we ranked all Superiors and got a standing ovation from the crowd when we hit our last notes.

Ms. Alford knew our potential and she knew how to pull it out of us.

After symphonic season, we began planning for our Spring Concert, my favorite concert of the year.

The Spring Concert featured more familiar songs, ones that we could have fun with.  Not long before the spring concert season began, I had been chosen to participate in a regional competition in voice.

One of the pieces of music we would be playing that year during the Spring Concert was selections from the Broadway musical “A Chorus Line.”

Ms. Alford had an idea, I would sing “What I Did for Love,” the big solo number featured in the musical, I would be accompanied by the band.  YIKES, nothing like some pressure.

True to form, Ms. Alford coached me through it and on the day of our performance, I stepped to the microphone and did it, I sang accompanied by my fellow band members.

For all the years that I knew her, she was ill, but she never, ever let her illness affect her dedication to us.

She showed up every day, she challenged us and challenged her body to keep going.  She was dedicated to us and we were dedicated to her.

The last time I saw Ms. Alford was about eight years ago at my nephew’s High School graduation.

I had spotted her in the crowd shortly after we took our seats and she spotted me about the same time.  She smiled, I smiled and I mouthed “I love you.”  She smiled brighter.

After the ceremony was over, I made my way over to where she was, “Ken Rumsey, get over here and give me a hug,” she said and I did.  I hugged her with all my might and she hugged me right back.

She wanted to know about me and when I asked about how she was, in true Ann Alford form she never complained, she just laughed and said “old and mean.”  She was neither,  in my eyes and heart, she was still the loving woman who challenged me to be my best.

Ann Alford was more than a teacher.  She was an inspiration to a lot of kids that needed it, myself included.  She taught us to never settle for anything but our best.

Ms. Alford has now passed, I wish I had gotten to tell her one more time how much she meant to me and how much I loved her, but I suspect she knew that.

We all loved her and when the music fills my heart and my spirit soars, I know she is there, counting the beat and striking up the band.

Thanks Ms. Alford, this band geek owes you more than words can ever express and grieves more at your passing that one blog post can ever relay.

 

Farewell and Thank You Sir

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John McCain died yesterday.

There is a poem called “the dash,” which in short says the dash on ones tombstone between the day he was born and the day he dies is the most important.

The dash, tells the story of ones life, the triumphs, their tragedies and the way they lived.

John McCain’s dash was filled with more than most lives; he lived, he loved, he was passionate and most of all he served.

From his days in Vietnam, his years in a POW confinement, service to the United States House of Representatives and Senate, John McCain’s life is an example of service that few will ever equal.

I supported Senator McCain in the run up to the Republican nomination in 2000 and when he lost, he lost with grace and dignity.

In the days leading up to the 2008 Presidential Campaign, I told people close to me that if John McCain ran, I would be on board with his candidacy as I have always felt the country would be better with him at the helm.

I didn’t vote for him.  I believed that the hope and change of President Obama was what would be better for our country.  Many days I regretted my final choice, but in the end I know I did the right thing.

As he went back to the Senate he continued to serve, he stepped up in ways that were even bigger than before and his position as a Statesman grew.

In a political environment where narcissism, and idealogues seems to be the norm, Senator McCain was different.  When he spoke it mattered and I believe he always used his vote in the way he truly felt would be best for our country.  Not always popular and not always right, but with a heartfelt conviction that is rare in today’s politic.

John McCain’s honor will be missed in our national debate and pursuit moving forward.

From all reports, John McCain was exactly what you would think.  He was a friendly, passionate man who loved life, loved his family, loved his country and loved his fellow-man.

People who knew him talk about his ability to work with anyone who had the best interest of the country at heart, no matter their party affiliation.  Isn’t that what we most hope for in our elected officials?  Sadly, now that the Maverick has left us, it seems there are few if any to fill that void.

John McCain’s life of service will be celebrated over the coming days.  Democrats, Republicans and Independents will laud all he did in his rich life.  We will hear stories of his life, we will read commentaries of  his rough spirit and loving grace.

In the days to come we will hear words like statesman, servant, bi-partisan, maverick, war-hero and family man.  Most of all we will hear how John McCain loved America and only wanted the best for its citizens, these and many of the other adjectives used will be worthy.

John McCain was one of a kind a voice that is now silent, but hopefully a legacy that will continue.

When the words of John McCain’s life are spoken in honor of this incredible man, hopefully they will unite something in all of us to help make our country a better place.  A country where we work together to get things done and understand that compromise is a noble pursuit.

If we learn anything from John McCain’s life and now death we must learn, respect and act on these attributes, or else he will have lived in vain.

Patriots like John McCain teach us, they lead us and because of them our lives are richer.

John McCain will be missed, his dash was full and overflowed with goodness.

Thank you Senator John McCain, for a life well lived and for your service to America.

 

RIP – John McCain

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Senator John McCain

1936 ~ 2018

RIP – Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin

Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.

Aretha Franklin

The Queen of Soul

1942 – 2018

 

Life’s Playlist….. Embraceable You by Ella Fitzgerald

If Ella Fitzgerald had lived, she would have been 101 today.  A Happy Birthday in heaven to one of the best ever.

No better voice.