Amanda was new in town, wanted to be in band, and had not yet ever studied an instrument. I had a trombone in the closet that nobody was playing. I needed trombone players. She needed a horn. It was a perfect situation.
Her very cooperative teachers helped me find a 30-minute time each week in which she could be spared from the classroom to help bring her up to speed with her fellow sixth grade musicians, all of whom had a one year head start on her. She had a great attitude, and clearly seemed to be a self-starter. It didn't all come terribly naturally to her, but she never became discouraged. She would come to band, play what she could, and worked hard to see that it was a little more the next time. She never let us down.
The program for our December concert was quite intentionally secular. I don't really remember if there was any outside urging to that effect, or if this was a decision I had made myself, but I had not geared any music specifically to a holiday theme. What I do remember specifically is that one of our pieces was the "Hava Nagila", a very well-know Jewish celebration folk piece.
I recall this specifically because of a phone call I got one morning from Amanda's mother. She started by telling us what a wonderful experience Amanda was having with band, and how much it meant to her. However, there was a point of concern.
"We are Jehovah's Witnesses, and our faith compels us to refrain from celebrations outside of the teachings of our church, such as secular or patriotic holidays, birthdays, and music and/or celebrations of faiths outside of our own." she said, "This, I fear, would include 'Hava Nagila', and I respectfully ask you to excuse Amanda from participating when you rehearse or perform this song."
"Of course," I responded. "and please don't give it another thought." I paused for a moment, before adding that I felt terrible, because she's been working on this with us for several months, and I regret that somehow I hadn't heard of this sooner. Being an itinerant teacher means that this sorts of details might escape me.
"Please don't worry. Your intentions were good, and no harm done. We also could have checked her folder before now to be sure that everything was appropriate for her. The funny part of it is that for most of these several months, she was not to a level where her playing gave that away. It wasn't until early this week that her level of play had become good enough that we could recognize what she was playing."
I've always wondered what came first, the joy over the realization that Amanda was improving enough for her work to be recognized, or the anxiety over the realization that she has, for months, been breaking an important covenant. For years since, I have chuckled to myself over the eternal debate over whether or not any covenant was indeed broken. She didn't know what the song was, and was not yet capable of performing it. She is innocent in thought and deed. I say she was cool.
He works in mysterious ways!