14 Gump-isms Adjusted for the Music Classroom, Students and Parents

In the spirit of Forrest Gump who said, “Life is like a box of chocolates…..You never know what you’re gonna get”, I offer the following sayings that sometime happen in band rehearsals and clarinet lessons. Also from a Collegiate Presentation I used to do at school. Enjoy:

These Gardner-isms are totally free and completely me. You may even hear some of them in your lessons or in a rehearsal.

  • “Good Grades Do Pay – and I can prove it.”

We all hear about college paying for good athletes, but they will also pay for good intellectuals. Pick up a brochure from just about any college and you’ll find a place in there where they list things like 1) Average SAT/ACT score or 2) National Merit Scholars.

If your SAT/ACT score is higher than the school’s average, then they WANT YOU because you will raise their average. To many schools, both the average SAT/ACT scores and the number of National Merit Scholars they have represent “bragging rights”. But instead of accidently stumbling into success, plan for it, and then execute your plan.

The first major test is one often ignored, the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test). At the high school where I teach, it is given in the Sophomore year. The PSAT is important because:

1) It is used as the NMSQT (National Merit Scholar Qualifying test). In fact, some places refer to the PSAT as the PSAT/NMSQT test. Our older son was recruited because of academics and the arts, but he specifically received the “Presidential Scholarship” at his chosen school. That renewable $2500 award was worth $10,000 at a school where it almost completely covered his in-state tuition. How much money can you make flipping burgers at minimum wage? This is a test worth studying for.

2) The scores from the PSAT are available to colleges and universities and gives them an opportunity to recruit. Our younger son received specific offers from 129 universities in 29 states following his high PSAT score. Some examples included:

* Arizona State said he would receive $50,000 as a National Merit Finalist (Finalist is the highest level you can achieve)
* Carlton College said he would be one of 65 National Merit Finalist
* Carthage said he would receive $13,000 each of his four years
* Texas A&M offered him $24,000 if he became a National Merit Semi-Finalist. (He was a finalist.)
* Delaware said they would take care of tuition, books, room and board, and special project funding all four years. (What else is there?).

We discovered that the more expensive the school, the higher the award. Perhaps that is why he settled on Duke University.

The other test(s) worth studying and preparing for are the SAT, the ACT and the SAT II’s (specific subject tests required by some schools). For us, son #1 received an award equivalent to the school’s out of state tuition for all four years. Son #2’s SAT and SAT II’s were slightly higher than the average at Duke, so he was accepted. Duke claims to accept from the top 1% nationally and son #2 graduated in the top 1% at Duke. And because of his academic success at Duke, he was accepted from undergraduate school straight into a PhD program at an Ivy League school that is paying him about $23,000/yr plus housing and a meal plan — just to work on his degree there. By the time he finishes, they will have invested over $100,000 in him. There’s my proof.

  • “Colleges Pay for those who Play – well!”

For the third ‘A’ in the triangle, there are Athletics, Academics and the Arts. I remember a conversation I had with son #1 junior or senior year in high school as we sat in the driveway of his trumpet teacher’s house and I was writing that check for an hour long lesson that was over 10x what I paid for lessons as a high schooler. The comment I made to him was,

“I am paying for your college education one week at a time. By the time you get to college, you need to be good enough that colleges will pay for you.”

 I did not pay for my college education. As one of five children being raised in a single parent household by a polio survivor mother, I knew there was no way my family was going to be able to send me to college. I knew that the only way I would get to college was to be good enough at something that a college would be willing to pay for me to come. My options were limited. I got decent, but not amazing grades in academics. So I wasn’t going to go on an academic scholarship. And I am significantly clumsy and non-athletic, so that route wasn’t going to work. But by 8th grade, I realized I could play the clarinet and set off on a track to make that my way in to college. Some of the things I did related to that included:

* When my friends were out cruising, I was practicing. (Not much choice as I didn’t have a car.)
* When my friends were going to the movies, I was practicing. (Not much choice as I didn’t have spending money.)
* I took clarinet lessons all through high school. It was during freshman year that my high school band director (James Copenhaver) asked the band director at Simon Kenton High School (Robert Roden) if he would accept me as a clarinet student. When my mother heard the plan, she said there was no way because I could not pay. Copenhaver persisted (endlessly) and convinced Roden to “audition” me. I went to Mr. Roden’s house and played some of my music for him, and also some music he had. He made me an offer that went something like this…..

“You do need lessons, not because you are bad, but because you are good and your potential is significant. My private lesson studio is full and you can’t afford me, but I want to work with you because I think I can help you get better. So here’s a deal for you. I have a bad heart and am not supposed to do strenuous things. If you will cut my grass whenever it needs it, shovel my sidewalk and driveway whenever it needs it, and do anything else I need around the house, I will give you clarinet lessons until the day you show up here unprepared. Do we have a deal?”

I talk more about Mr. Roden, including how he died trying to get his music out of burning building, as part of my (click here to read===>) Father’s Day tribute.

 * I participated in Summer Music Camps. I spent three 4-week sessions at the Stephen Foster Music Camp at Eastern Kentucky University and two summers at the 2-week Summer Camp at Morehead State University. One of the reasons college offer camps is to get to know prospects. In those cases, I got to study for short times with the clarinet professors at both universities. When it came time to select a college, both of those were recruiting me because they already knew me. And, of course, having intense rehearsals and master classes all day for the summer makes one a significantly better musician.
* I auditioned for specialty and clinic bands. Northern Kentucky had a “Select Band” which rehearsed for 1-2 days and gave a concert. I auditioned for and was accepted into that band all four of my high school years — but never achieved “1st chair” in it. I also participated all 4 years in the Kentucky All-State Band. Senior year I was awarded the Solo Clarinet (1st chair) position in the All-State Orchestra. There was the Morehead State University Band Clinic, similar in structure to the IPFW Honor Band Program. At that time, the MSU program had six bands. Senior year I was “Concertmaster” in the Honor Band (1st band, 1st chair) and got to experience Dr. Revelli of Michigan.
* I participated in several ensembles and played a solo every year at Solo/Ensemble Festival. I received 1-II, 14-I’s and 1-I+. Both my sons surpassed that, with Son #2 achieving over 42 Gold Medal ratings in District and State in instrumental and vocal.

My Son #1 did not pay for his college education. Do you notice anything similar about our paths and strategies?

* Trumpet Lessons starting in 7th grade.
* IPFW Honor Band
* Solo/Ensemble Festival
 – three trips to State
* Stephen Foster Music Camp – (KY) twice
* Blue Ridge Music Camp at Butler University (IN)
* Jazz Camp at Cumberland University (TN)
* Fort Wayne Youth Symphony
* All-State Band
Summer Substitute with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra
* Everything Band
 in high school, including Marching (2yrs), Concert, Jazz, Varsity Brass (Show Choir Backup), Musicals.

In fact, there were some semesters when he would register for classes that the school would give HIM a check. That was because each year:

– $2500 each year from the Presidential Scholarship (National Merit Finalist)
– $2000 each year from the University to completely cover in-state-tuition
– $5000 from the Honors Program (ACT score, National Honor Society) to completely cover out of state tuition
– $3500 from the Music Department to completely cover housing
– $1000 from the Trumpet Studio
$14,000 … at a time when the total cost at TTU (Tennessee Tech) was about $10,000/yr.

He also received local scholarships. I recall that for one of those scholarships he called the person in charge because he missed the “postmark date” and wanted to see if he could drive it to her home (local). Her response was, “Please do, honey ….. your application will be the only one we have.” See scholarship -ism below.

It is sad to see high school students who are pretty good in their local band go off to top-ranked music schools like IU School of Music to be rejected. As I teach students at Huntington University, most of those I get are coming to the college level as music majors never having studied privately before. It is really hard to make it at the college level without specialty instruction in high school. There is only so much that can be done in the large ensemble for which there is a “free” teacher. Assuming there is some talent/ability involved, you can almost look at the concept as a “Pay Now vs Pay Later”. You can INVEST in your training and experiences throughout high school and go for the music scholarships in college, or you can pay for that college music education, if you qualify for it and can keep up with the higher level demands that do not take into account that you “couldn’t afford” or didn’t have an opportunity to study in high school.

  • It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose — until you lose.

I used to have a poster in front of my bandroom showing a rifle girl, her head down as she was dragging her rifle behind her…..featuring that quote.

  • If the notes are on the paper, it is your job to play ALL of them.

I often tell students that it is my job as a director to help mold and blend the sound, and to correct errors…… not to teach notes. Learning the notes is the student’s job. This Gardner-ism is inspired by a student who asked me once, “How much of it are we supposed to be able to play?”

  • If you’re going to play it, you might as well play it right.

Why hurt the ensemble and waste valuable rehearsal time when it doesn’t take that much more effort to do it right the first time?

  • The view from 1st chair is much better.

I am reminded of Zig Ziglar’s book, See You At The Top. If you have ever driven over the Smokies or Rockies Mountains …. you get this.

  • Private Lessons can be like paying for college — one week at a time. (see above)

  • Be prepared: Make sure your parents are getting their money’s worth.

I have had students come to clarinet/sax lessons without their music, without preparation ….. and one, without his instrument. When I was paying for lessons, I wanted my money’s worth. And I tell my students to give their parents their money’s worth, i.e. don’t waste my time or their money.

  • Santa isn’t the only one who knows whether you’ve been bad (no practice) or good.

  • You can’t sight read in your lesson and get away with it. I’m better than that.

A memorable angry interaction with Son #1 once was after a conversation with his trumpet teacher. The teacher was complimenting how well lessons were going and my comment was, “he’s a very strong sight-reader”.

  • Like the ice skater who misses the quad, missing notes in public can hurt.

Mistakes are going to happen. They just are. When you watch ice skating on TV, even at the world championship or olympic level, there are mistakes. What I often explain in private lessons is that they probably hit that jump a high percentage of times in practice. Performance rarely goes better than practice. If you aren’t doing it in practice, what do you think will happen in performance?

  • Anybody can be mediocre.  Not you. Not with me. Don’t even think about it.

Mediocre means average. Anybody can be average. When talking about the lukewarm (mediocre) church, Jesus said he would prefer that it had been hot or cold, but because it was lukewarm, he would spit it out of His mouth.

  • You can practice hard now and have fun at performance, or you can have fun now…

  • Do you really want me to tell you it was good — if it wasn’t?


Much of this is included in a presentation I call, “How We Did It” in getting our two sons through college. In their case, we spent $32,000 fr $200,000 worth of education and I share the strategies we used, the experiences we had and the items we learned. If you want notification when THAT update posts, SUBSCRIBE to this blog. Thanks for reading.


Consulting for Manufacturers wanting to get into the Fundraising Business: http://wp.me/pIYXs-2z
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A Really Free Credit Report: http://wp.me/pIYXs-38

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The Band Plan: http://wp.me/pIYXs-1C
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Getting to the Music Directors: http://wp.me/pKZd0-f


One thought on “14 Gump-isms Adjusted for the Music Classroom, Students and Parents

  1. John, I am sitting here with my head lowered in shame wondering where it (my head) was in high school and college: It was buried in the sand. This article should inspire: This article does discuss resources. You and I both know that our guidance counseling was pretty much non-existent in high school. With your words, you opened the door to your office should your students and parents want to come to you.You can point them in the right direction. You can be Mr. C. There are many more people who went to college because of his help than we’ll ever know. Thanks once again for sharing and caring. Once again you project the truth: Your future lies in YOUR hands.

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