In the early 1900s, carousel riders were challenged to reach up toward a wooden arm that dispensed rings as the platform rotated. Most of the rings were iron, but in the mix was a single brass ring. If your reach was long enough, your aim was true, your timing was just right and you had a little luck on your side, you just might grab that brass ring and win something special!
Over the years, the phrase "grabbing the brass ring" has come to mean reaching for the highest prize. What is the "brass ring" for your band program? Maybe it's taking your developing band to their very first festival, or perhaps it's performing at your state music conference. Or it could be any other number of goals that seem a little out of reach at the moment, but with a little work, just might be attainable.
In the fall 2011, I had the sense that it was time to push the band program at my school to the next level. We had opened the school a few years earlier and finally had grown the band program to where we hired a second director in 2010. The kids were playing well. The administration was happy, and parents were pleased. My new colleague and I were on the same page philosophically and we'd figured out how to team teach in a way that brought out both our strengths. Things were clicking, but it was all just a little too comfortable. "It's time to go for something bigger," I told my co-director. And so, we started to discuss what that "bigger" thing might be.
We had some ideas, but as those discussions began to take shape, we realized that in order to do "bigger," we were going to have to get better. You see, when you stretch for something that is a little out of reach, you can't help but grow in the process. So, we spent some time honestly reflecting on what needed to improve, and, more importantly, how to get there. We read books and articles, attended clinics and conferences, asked questions, sought out mentors, tried new ideas, and put what we learned into practice. There were both failures and successes along the way, but do you know what? We improved. And when we got better as teachers, our students grew by leaps and bounds.
Before long, what we were doing wasn't so much about the end goal. It was about the process. It was about growing. And that was invigorating. We didn't get the brass ring that first year. In fact, we really didn't expect to. But it didn't matter because the reward was that the kids were sounding better than they ever had because of the professional growth that was happening. And honestly, that rejection propelled us to work even smarter the next year.
Now that we are well into the school year, I challenge each of you to figure out what the "next level" is for you and your program. It takes honest, sometimes difficult, reflection, but when you figure it out, you reveal future possibilities, for yourself and your students. Reach for it!
P.S. My "brass ring" was to have the band perform at The Midwest Clinic, and in 2013 that dream came true! And while the performance was easily one of the most exciting moments of my career, it was the journey that was the real prize.