The Learning Curve
Welcome to The Learning Curve - insightful educational commentary from Dr. Bob Bowman, Assistant Head of School for Upper School.
This One Time, at Band Camp
In the summer between 9th and 10th grades, I went to band camp. For some of you of a certain age, feel free to insert your American Pie jokes here. My friend Randy convinced me that it would be fun to spend a week on the campus of the College of William and Mary playing music with other high school students. All you had to do was apply and acknowledge that you had five or more years of experience, which we both did. So, after acceptance into the program, Randy and I, instruments and suitcases in tow, piled into the backwards facing seats of his family’s station wagon and headed south on I-95. Little did I know what I was getting myself into; I should have read the brochure more closely.
Two hours after arriving at W&M the auditions began. I had brushed up on a couple of pieces a few days before we left, so I was feeling reasonably confident. Randy and I went different directions, each instrument going to separate locations. The 40 or so trumpet players were told to go into a lecture hall and take a seat. There was no playing of prepared pieces; it was all sight reading. If only I had read that darn brochure. My pulse began to race. Sight reading consists of playing music you have never seen before and was definitely not one of my strong points. And it was not only sight reading; we each had to play in front of all the other folks in the room.
One of the musical directors explained that the first of five pieces was straightforward, a good way to warm up. This was followed by the dreaded statement: we will go in alphabetical order. Surely there had to be others in the room with a last name before Bowman. Adams, Bauman, Becker, anyone, please?! With sweat beginning to pool where sweat tends to pool, I listened for the first name to be announced: Bowman, Robert. Close to fainting, I went to the front of the room. When I looked at the piece there were a lot of densely packed notes up and down the treble clef. I was in trouble. My left leg began to shake, so I tried to slightly lift it off the ground. My mouth was completely dry, making it difficult to properly pucker and blow. I am pretty sure some notes came out of my horn, and a few were likely the right ones, but the rest was a blur. I remember sitting down with my heart still pounding and the girl next to me asking why I played on one foot.
It was a long week in Williamsburg, Virginia, and clearly Randy and I had vastly different experiences. Full disclosure, Randy was an extremely talented alto saxophonist, and I was a reasonably competent trumpet player. For Randy, music was a singular focus and passion; he was well-versed in composition, different musical genres and music theory. For me, playing the trumpet was a hobby; it was something I could do competently, and I really enjoyed being part of our school bands. But I learned a really important lesson; I learned what it meant to be committed to excellence. Immersed in a group of like-minded folks aspiring to greatness, I began to understand the level of rigor necessary to excel. That was not me when it came to being a musician, but it inspired me to begin my search for my vocation.
The quest of helping students find their calling is one of the fundamental goals of our teachers in the Wardlaw+Hartridge Upper School. In all of our core educational emphases, we offer a chance to dig deeply into the subject. Whether this involves exploring authentic scholarship in our Capstone course, conducting state-of-the-art research in genetics or bioinformatics, creating a portfolio of inspirational and personal artwork, independent study in multivariable calculus, or taking one of our more than 20 advanced placement courses, students at W+H have an opportunity to explore subjects deeply. They understand the rigor required to thrive in their chosen coursework while being led by passionate teachers in classes filled with equally engaged classmates. These opportunities spark our students’ imaginations and set them on the path to explore what they find most fascinating and encourage them to dive in with the entirety of their intellect. It is a privilege and a joy for all our teachers to be part of this process, to see students realize their passions and take control of their learning.
My trumpet-playing talents, as well as wood-paneled station wagons, are long gone, but the joy of finding your passions and committing to the necessary rigor and practice to achieve excellence is alive and well. The education our students receive at W+H prepares them well for the next steps of their academic journeys. I just hope they read the brochure before they go!
Second, excellent points all around Bob. thanks for sharing. And thanks to W+H for setting our students on the path to take control of their learning at W+H and beyond.
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