Mr. Alley was my band teacher from fifth grade on up to tenth grade. He was a short round little man with thinning hair and glasses, but man was he passionate. When he got a baton in his hand he was practically bouncing on his feet in time to the music. It was like he was really listening to and really feeling what we were playing. When he stopped the band to correct us, it was never with any kind of negativity. He would just explain, ‘this is what I need to hear…bum da da da bum da bum,’ his feet bouncing and his baton waving. Sometimes he would grab his tuba and demonstrate or he would go sit in the brass section and play with us. His enthusiasm was infectious.
When I moved from Colorado to Montana in the middle of my fourth grade year, I struggled to make friends and fit in. I always felt like an outsider and my home life didn’t help any. Somehow Mr. Alley was able to transcend all this. When I entered that band room and picked up my clarinet I felt like I belonged. Even though the only interaction I had with most of those kids was playing music together, there was a sense of community and belonging.
The last year he taught we were working on some very challenging pieces for a festival. We could tell that this meant a lot to Mr. Alley. We all worked extra hard. Playing in that festival is one of those memories that remains quite vivid in my mind. I can feel the excitement and intensity of the moment. I can feel the edge of the metal seat underneath me and see the sweat beaded on Mr. Alley’s forehead. I don’t remember what our score was. I just remember that I felt so alive and present in that moment. I wanted to be my best self. This is the gift that Mr. Alley gave to me, the gift he gave to us all.