Sept 14, 2022–If you ever feel you don’t make a difference, read on, McDuff.

Many, many… many… years ago, I was student teaching to finish up my education degree. This is a thrilling time for every wanna-be teacher, as it puts you in front of real students for the very first time.

I loved every minute of practice teaching. But there was a part of me not ready to abandon the abandon of being a touring musician. Getting up before noon? Shaving every day? Wearing a shirt with a collar? Heck, I was only about 10 years older than my students.

So when the class began planning the end-of-year school program, I leapt at the opportunity to go back to do something I was comfortable doing: playing music. I agreed to put together a beginner band to play a few tunes.

Keep in mind these were 5th and 6th graders. They were keen as mustard to play, but all had only recently started learning their instruments. The challenge was molding them into a semblance of a combo in two weeks of after-school practice.

This was years before anyone had thought of Rock and Roll High School. So I had no template on how to proceed. As we gathered in the gym that first afternoon, I counted up a couple of guys who had taken piano lessons, a guitar player, a bass player, a drummer, and several girl singers, all beginners.

Okay. This might work. Then the kids told me they wanted to play a popular song of that time that fit the theme. It was Thank You For Being a Friend–not an easy tune even for experienced pickers.

I realized I was asking a lot of musical novices, who had their hands full playing their instruments, let alone making music with a group of other novices.

So that night I went to my apartment and distilled the song to its very basics. I broke everything down to the chords, wrote out slash marks to designate each beat, and left out complications such as key changes. To pad our program, I also wrote a very simple school song using three chords and corny words.

It was pretty amazing what happened. After two weeks of short sessions, they were actually playing together and starting and ending the songs at the same time.

I honestly don’t remember the performance, but the stacked audience of parents and classmates undoubtedly loved it. Even the moms that had to pick them up late after practice every afternoon.

The event dissolved in the misty past. I moved on to mediocrity in other fields, and those 11 and 12-year-olds are now in their 50s.

Here is the rest of the story.

Last week, I received an email from one of those boys. He not only remembered our little band, he remembered the chords and lyrics to the song I wrote. Not only that, as a professional working musician, he recorded the song and sent it to me. Not only that, but he credits those two weeks of after-school elementary rock and roll as the reason he decided to make music his career.

Not only that, but he is the third student from that group that has let me know they went on to make a career of music. They claim to still talk about that first band when they get together… Well, I’ll let them say it: “Mr. H, Your guidance in the early days, helping us youngsters learn how to play in a band, was basically school of rock decades before anybody else thought of it. Your name still gets bandied about in our collective reminiscences of our musical past! You were hugely influential, and apparently you never knew it, haha! Well, now you do! And again, thank you.”

Every teacher knows the emotion that comes when a former student gives you credit for any positive change in their life.

It’s not an ego thing to share this. Rather, it is a paean to the power of the teacher/student connection. What I take away from this is in the student’s line “… and apparently you never knew it.”

I had no clue.

The lesson here? You do make a difference–and you are not always aware of that.

You never know who might be paying attention.