Garthia Elena Burnett: Band memories, old and new

January 28, 2011 1:31:00 PM

Garthia Elena Burnett -


I had my first day of rehearsal with the Starkville/MSU community band on Monday. 


As a disclosure in my own defense, picking up a clarinet after six years is not like riding a bike. 


Still, it was familiar and comforting. And I even ran into a high school bandmate, who has played in the community band since its inception. 


Some of the things I forgot seemed to remember me, and it drew me back to my early days as a fledgling clarinetist. 


I played French horn for years, before deciding to make the switch. When we "auditioned" band instruments in the sixth grade, I couldn''t make a peep on the clarinet. I chose the French horn, a worthy alternative. 


Three years later, I decided I would play it anyway. It was a good call. I was much more talented at it than I ever was at the French horn. The French horn is a beautiful instrument, one to which I was doing little justice. All the noises I made on it came out sounding pretty much the same. 


But on the clarinet, I earned solos, a position as section leader, medals and trips to honor band clinics.  


More than shiny emblems and ribbons to adorn my band uniform, I treasured the memories: 


· En route to Biloxi for the state honor band clinic with Mr. Sellers and flutist Danielle Lyle, we stopped for the night at a fellow band director''s house. He had students attending the state honor band clinic, as well. His wife made homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast. It was the first time I felt so close to complete strangers. 


· After the announcement of superior ratings at the Gordo, Ala., marching band contest, we did the electric slide in the parking lot. Melissa Minor taught me the dance. I can''t remember whether there was music or not. 


· On a trip to The University of Mississippi honor band clinic, I had a flare-up of bronchitis. I was determined to make the trip anyway. It was a lost cause. I coughed and sputtered my way through the first day of rehearsals, and Mr. Sellers was kind enough to drive me home. Joseph Henson, clarinetist-turned-xylophone player, finished the clinic without us. Apprehensive about being left alone, he was forced to socialize and make new friends. He''s developed into quite the extrovert since. 


For me, band made plugging through the school day worthwhile. 


Thinking back to why I fell in love with those black dots on the page and started my college years as a music major, one name comes to mind: Ron Sellers. 


The longtime Caledonia band director, known for his hot head and healthy appetite, instilled in me a love of music that would last a lifetime. (Even if the skill is fleeting.) 


And for me, it was hard to separate the Mr. from the Mrs. Informally our assistant band director, Mrs. Sellers spent her days teaching "soh-cah-toa" in Trigonometry and her afternoons in a straw hat, on the band practice field. 


Together, they were a dynamic force. 


She was cool-headed, quiet and, quite frankly, a math genius. AP calculus has never had a more masterful presenter. I loved math. Or so I thought. As a sophomore taking college trig, I realized it must have been the teacher I loved. Math was just guilty by association. 


The story was similar with U.S. history, French, art, physics. I had some great teachers. 


Of late, I''ve found myself back on the education beat. And being entrenched in school board meetings and stories about teachers and students, it''s gotten me reminiscing about my school days. It also reminded me of two words I for got to say to many of the people who touched my life and the lives of so many others: Thank you.