Dazzled and Awestruck: Music Making Meaning


The middle school lunchroom had been converted into an auditorium. On stage were the assembled musicians of the middle-school band, 6th–8th graders. Among them our grandson, Levi, a happy sixth-grader with his clarinet, clad in a new band uniform about three sizes too large. He had taken up the clarinet as a fourth grader, when school and music instruction, were on-line during COVID.

The room was dark, the band playing vigorously and in synch. The director, a pony-tail bobbing on his back, wearing a Covid-mask, moved his baton with all the precision of the director at the Seattle Symphony. Earlier, when he attempted to speak, a case of laryngitus made it an effort. I hope it wasn’t as painful as it sounded. Otherwise, he was totally into it, as were the large cast of musicians.

In the darkened auditorium, at the lip of the stage and to the right, clustered a choir of parents. Of varying heights, each held a lit phone aloft. They were shooting videos of the band and their kiddo. Somehow they looked to me like the shepherds in the Christmas story, arrayed on that hillside. Instead of being awe-struck by the light from the angel chorus, the parents, each holding their own little light in the darkness, stood dazzled and awe-struck by what their progeny were managing to pull off.

Before the middle school band took the stage, there was the combined, beginning band from the three feeder elementary schools. What with one thing and another, explained the elementary school music teacher, Dave, these kids had only been playing for a month or so. But they were eager and all in, squirming a bit, but mostly remarkably disciplined and holding the posture they had been taught was required of a musician.

That director, the elementary school one, took us through the steps of getting to that point, breathing exercises, learning to hold instruments correctly, using mouthpieces, playing notes together, moving to the musical scale and so on . . . then an actual piece of music. Bravo! The effect of seeing and hearing this first-year starter group, followed by two bands made up of kids a year or two older was remarkable. Development made visible! It was another kind of light shining in the darkness.

The band on stage and the audience below were, by the way, majority people of color. And I suspect of many faiths as well. As the bands were unified in the cause of music, so the audience were united in their devotion to their children, to music and to learning. Hats off to their gifted teachers. Truly, a lovely thing to behold.

It wasn’t a “Christmas Concert,” but a variety of music which did include some holiday chestnuts like “Up on the Housetop” and “In a One Horse Open Sleigh.” Even somewhere in the midst of what the director termed a “mash-up”  strains of a juiced-up version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” My own favorite was a romp called “Revenge of the Dust Bunnies,” complete with the perfectly timed scream from young lad, Francisco. Meant, I guess, to convey the horror of a housekeeper attacked by the dust bunnies.

But the most moving and somehow ethereal image of the night was that array of parents, clustered stage right, straining toward the stage, each with their own phone camera making videos whether for grandparents in some distant town or city or for posterity. As they rose tippy-toe to capture the moment, they too were lights shining in the darkness. Lights of parental devotion, family pride, and witnesses to the capacity of children and community to come together in love, growth and learning.

When so many things in our world seem not to be working, this was. Wonderful to behold.

Anthony B. Robinson
Anthony B. Robinsonhttps://www.anthonybrobinson.com/
Tony is a writer, teacher, speaker and ordained minister (United Church of Christ). He served as Senior Minister of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church for fourteen years. His newest book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. He divides his time between Seattle and a cabin in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. If you’d like to know more or receive his regular blogs in your email, go to his site listed above to sign-up.


  1. There is very little in this crazy world that can beat the joy of watching your grandchildren play in their first school concert! Even the occasional bad note makes them sound like the London Philharmonic Orchestra!


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