What a Great Teacher Teaches

at 11:43 PM

Mr. Athayde was crazy. Everyone knew that. Erin's brother said so, and so did Andy, and he was in 8th grade.

But summer came to an end and I, stupidly, signed up for 6th grade band. On top of that, I "decided" to join the 7:00 am beginners' jazz band: Our dog was named Thelonious after all.

I quickly understood what Erin's brother meant. Mr. Athayde was crazy. Absolutely, unequivocally, without a doubt, nuts. We'd spend entire classes just listening to records. He devoted weeks to just breathing. One day in particular, he lectured for 45 minutes about the proper way to hold a bass drum mallet.

He took introductory band more seriously than I had taken anything in my life up to that point. Mr. Athayde screamed at me more times that first year than my parents had in my first 12. When I played out of turn or made a snide comment to Trevor, I'd find myself scraping gum off the pavement outside the band room.

But I learned fast.

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Faster, really, than I ever had before. Mr. Athayde expected things from us that no one else did. Getting 95 percent of the notes right was an F, not an A. If you forgot your suspenders on concert night, he would kick you out publicly. If you weren't more than 15 minutes early for sound-check, you might as well not show up at all. Respect -- for yourself, your peers and your art -- above all else.

Band became my thing. I spent all my lunches in the band room with the other regulars listening to Mick, the gregarious ex-lead trumpet from the Tower of Power tell stories from the funk age or relearning the standards in 13/8 time from Frank, who'd played with everyone from Lady Gaga to Stevie Wonder.

By 8th grade I was showing up at 7:00 am, five days a week, playing in three different bands. We played in big festivals, won awards, and some of the bandroom-regulars went on to great music careers. But most didn't.

That's not what matters, I don't think.

Yesterday, I worked late into the night writing a memo that only a few people will read, and even less will care about. Nonetheless, I rewrote sections, double checked statistics, and verified my results over and over again. It's my work and I take pride in what I do. It matters to me.

Mr. Athayde didn't make me who I am today. I did that through hard work -- which, I think, was his intention all along.

With a Perspective, I'm Nathan Falk.

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Nathan Falk is a member of Lafayette's Stanley Middle School, Class of '06. Bob Athayde was recently selected as a quarterfinalist for this year's Music Educator Award from The Recording Academy and the GRAMMY Foundation.

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