By Tim Hayes

The music folder for my high school band weighed a ton.  I didn’t want to lug it around school with me all day, and my locker couldn’t have been any farther from the band room, so I kept it in what I thought was a safe cupboard near the drum section.

So imagine my shock and horror when, one fine spring morning during my senior year, I reached into my terrific hiding place to find no folder.  No anything.  No marching band music, no performance band music, no jazz band music.  All gone.

I tore up the entire band room, all of the small practice rooms, the closets where the marching band uniforms hung in storage.  Bupkus.  Nothing.  The well kept coming up dry.  My folder had disappeared.  What to do?

In the stupendously lacking brain of a 17-year-old, the strategy immediately came into focus.  Fake it.  Stall.  Delay.  Deny.  Try to play my parts by memory.  Dodge.  Do anything but admit that all of my music had been misplaced by my own carelessness and laziness, probably forever.  Who’d know or notice, anyway?

(Are you listening, presidential candidates of 2016?)

You can guess how well that brilliant strategy worked – especially on those musical pieces where it was my job to bang away on the timpani, those big booming brass kettledrums.  I’m there, cowering in the back corner of the orchestra, going purely on guts and guesses.

And when you guess wrong on the timpani, pal, everybody knows it.  Everybody.  It isn’t like the sixth flute player down the line hitting a wrong note.  No, no, no.  When you bring that mallet down – BOOM!  Rrrrrrummmmmbbbbllllllll – all 75 other kids in the room can tell when you’ve come in too early, too late, too fast, too slow.  Which was too bad for me.

I shanked one on the kettledrum just like that, a day or two after the realization that I would be music-less for the remainder of my high school career.  Mr. B., the band director, snapped his head up faster than grease off a hot frying pan, his eyes boring a hole in my forehead.

“Hayes, what the hell are you playing back there?” he shouted, after stopping the ensemble.  My friends in the drum section could see there was nothing on my music stand, but the director couldn’t.  “Sorry,” I said, hoping he’d forget it and start everybody up again.  Naturally, he didn’t.

“When are you supposed to come in after letter C?” he asked me.  “Can you tell?”  “Yep, I got it.”  “I hope so.  All right, let’s take it from letter C.”

Panic had seized hold of my head, my hands, my heart.  I suddenly got blanketed in fibrillation and fluster.  I had no idea when to come in after letter C.  How could I?  This low-brow, half-ass fakery continued for the remainder of the period, and I knew the jig was up.  As the bell rang for the next class, Mr. B. gestured for me to follow him to his desk.

“Where’s your music?” he asked, of course sussing the issue out on his own.  Any hope of my becoming a master criminal, out-sleuthing the Sherlock Holmeses of the world, pretty much went out the window at that moment.  “I don’t know.  I lost it.  I had put it in a cupboard over there, and a couple of days ago it was gone.”

He looked at me, this man for whom I had so much respect through four years of high school.  The thought that I’d let him down?  Absolutely crushing.  Unthinkable.  Unbearable.

“Keep looking, Hayes,” he said.  “It’ll turn up.  We only have one timpani player, and that’s you.  Who else would want your music?  Don’t turn into a grape.”  In Mr. B.’s vernacular, a “grape” meant someone who didn’t pull his or her weight for the band and the other student musicians.  Like wearing the Cone of Shame.  No one ever wanted to be labeled a grape.  “Okay, Mr. B.”

You know, the crazy thing is – that folder did turn up two days later, in the same place I’d put it before all this happened.  I never found out who took it in the first place, or why they decided to put it back, but I’m glad they did.

Huge life lesson learned during this particular adolescent adventure – tell the truth, right up front.  That’s the only way a problem can get solved.  Take your medicine, and keep moving forward.  People forgive when they know the truth, and can help you make things right again.

After all, Bill Clinton wasn’t impeached because of his peccadilloes – but because he lied and covered them up.  Martha Stewart didn’t go to jail because of insider trading – but because she lied and covered it up.  The truth really does come out in the end.  But it hurts a lot less if it comes out in the beginning.

On the night of graduation, as the band played various selections during the ceremony, after I got my diploma and walked back to the band, I came up to Mr. B. to shake his hand one last time, and to say goodbye and thanks, when he said to me, “Congratulations, Hayes.  You were almost a grape there for a minute, but you pulled through.  You’ve done a great job, and I’m proud of you.  Don’t forget about us.”

As a result, I left high school five feet off the ground.  Grape-less, wiser, and blessed.

Copyright 2016 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting