By Bobby Lambert
Most leaders in the band are inherently good people. My dear friend and college band director, Bob Buckner, would often comment that the problem with society is that not everyone is in band. He would say:
“If everyone were in band, there would be very virtually no crime and we could work together to make great things happen. That’s what bands do. Band people are the best people in the world!”
So with so many good people in band, why must we speak of Character? It is usually not to dissuade students from stealing or cheating but rather to encourage students to do their best in all they do. Character is often described as what one does when no one is watching. I believe Character, for student leaders, is more the place between what you WANT to do and what you SHOULD do. That gray area where one could leave trash on the floor and no one would lay blame, or the middle ground where a leader could walk by an obviously struggling freshman and ignore their need. My particular favorite example of Character in the band medium pertains to personal practice. No one really knows your practice habits—or so we think.
See, Character can feel like this grandiose idea from which after school specials and Disney movies spring. We have all seen the like— “A downtrodden student changes his entire school from a devastated war zone into a place of love and tranquility using only his trumpet” or “A courageous girl and her snare drum save seventy kittens from certain annihilation using the power of the flam.”
But Character is much more simple. It is not so much WHAT you do to help others but WHY you do it.
If your sole reason for kindness is recognition and praise, it will be a disappointment. People can be very smart and usually are quite savvy when it comes to false intentions. Have you ever experienced a friend or teacher who is false in their intentions and you could just tell? Everyone has. So you cannot simply attempt the “right” thing for praise or promotion. There must be reason behind your actions. WHY should you help someone? WHY should you be a champion / protector of your band? WHY should you pick up someone else’s trash???
I believe there are two reasons. Number one can be summed up by a question: “If not you, then who?” If it does not begin with you, band leader…. musician… intelligent human…artist then from where should Character rise? It is actually a cycle that is created between art and artist. We partake in the most profound artistic movement ever created–music. It is alive, ever changing, and transcending. There are no words to describe it, only musicians to embody it. We can do that on the stage or on the field but shouldn’t we also exemplify this most transforming of art forms in our everyday existence? How can one be miserable and be a musician (Please understand I include dancers and color guard members as musicians–your medium is your movement. You are the personal representation of the music)? We get to create art out of thin air. We get to bring the inspiration and passion of composers to life for audiences whose lives were very dull up until the moment we began to play. We get to touch people all across the country and world through music. What have we to dread? Music gives us every reason to celebrate with Character exhibited in all the things we do.
The second reason why is music demands that we are as aware of the human condition as possible or else we cannot communicate with one another. It begins with our fellow musicians and performers. I can always tell a band with a sense of community in the way they prepare and perform. The Character exhibited by the members toward one another is powerful and therefore, their musical and visual achievement is amplified. Much in the same way two frequencies amplify one another when they are perfectly in sync, two people can amply — strike that — MUST amplify and fortify each other for art to reach its full potential. As the performers communicate with each other, they communicate with an audience. Whether that is on the field, in the parking lot after a performance, on a bus or in the school, the band is always performing. Have you heard the classification, “band kid”? We are all “band kids” in every facet of our life. I COULDN’T BE HAPPIER ABOUT THAT!!! That moniker should mean the best of the best in every way. If it doesn’t, the point of BAND has been missed.
See the cycle: Art demands Character, which in turn, inspires Art…
Character is so important on so many levels. Consequently, it is a win-win situation. Exceptional Character breeds exceptional performance. I will leave you with this challenge. Simon Sinek has written several books and has an outstanding video on TEDx Talks. His latest book is titled, “Leaders Eat Last”. Since arriving at Marian, thirteen years ago, I have eaten many meals with our head director Greg Bimm and the full band. In EVERY situation, Greg Bimm eats last. At every potluck, contest, or social situation, he is always last to eat. I thought it was a small point at first but over the years, I see the bigger picture. It is a sign of care and concern for those he leads. He will not rest, until all are served…and I do not only mean food. We follow him with even more vigor because of that fact and the care he shows for us.
Do your followers feel that kind of care? Does your Character inspire extraordinary commitment? If not, do not be surprised when some do not buy in to your philosophy. In the world of leadership, Character is the engine that makes everything possible. It motivates the leader and the followers to move forward. Without it, little else matters. It is at the core of every leadership skill and cannot be overestimated.
“In the last analysis, what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do.”- Stephen Covey