In 7th grade beginning band, I chose the flute as my instrument. Not because I really wanted to play it, but because my father said it had the prettiest sound and was the best instrument for a girl (ugh, I know. I would have chosen the drums or saxophone). But, I was scared of my dad, and I really wanted to play in band. So at 12, I officially started my journey as a flute playing band geek.

Mr. Layton, our band director, was firm, but kind. He always wore dress pants, dark loafers, a button up dress shirt and tie–everyday. He was average height, balding with dark hair, large metal rimmed glasses with a thick mustache. He had this quirky sense of humor that was corny, yet endearing at the same time. Each day after we settled into our seats and pulled out our instruments, he would raise his arms while holding his baton and teach us the fundamentals of music. I absorbed every word he said. That daily routine was life for me. I was like a dry plant parched for water and sunshine absorbing every single bit of what he had to say. I found I was looking forward to this pattern of learning music each and every day.

My love for music, natural aptitude and need to be a part of something made band the perfect fit. The organ and piano lessons I had taken when I was younger helped me tremendously in learning to read the music and complete the music theory assignments. I easily finished the written portions and focused on practicing my flute.

I LOVED band and everything about it. I loved how practicing paid off. I could easily see the fruits of my labor. Learning the scales and short musical pieces gave me the boosts of confidence to help with my self-image, but also keep me moving forward. My daily ritual became school, home, homework, and flute practice. And all the practice paid off. I was eventually 1st chair flutist. I made superiors at FBA Solo and Ensemble. I auditioned and made All-County Band. These small successes provided the confidence and self-assurance I so lacked.

I played three years (7th - 9th grade) in Junior High Band. I have fond memories of making friends, playing at football games, attending competitions and going on band trips. Through band, I met people I would stay connected with for decades to come. A dear friend of mine, Heather (another flutist), asked me to go to church with her. I learned God loves me and has a purpose for my life. I learned I had a place in the world, but also learned the importance of connecting with other people. I spent a lot of time with her and her family. I felt accepted and loved by them. Her friendship was another lifeline I gained through band. With this growing self-confidence and sense of belonging, I wanted to continue band into high school.

Summer before 9th grade brought summer marching band camp. The high school band directors, Steve Oglesby and Bert Creswell were veteran music teachers who led the Orange Park High Raider Band to many competitions, awards and accolades. They ran a tight ship. Because of them, the Raider band had a great reputation. Mr. Oglesby was the stern, no non-sense director that had a wicked sense of humor. He was also a very talented and known jazz player in the area. He taught jazz ensemble and concert band. Bert Creswell was a gentle, kind man that could be serious, yet tough when needed. He taught Symphonic Band and Music Theory. I didn’t realize but these two men would become leaders and mentors I would look up to my high school years and beyond.

Band room became my safe place. I’d eat lunch, do homework and hang out there after school. I lived, ate and drank band. I was by all definitions a “band nerd”. By my senior year I had three band classes a day, Concert Band (oboe), Symphonic Band (flute and piccolo), and AP Music Theory.

Band exposed me to different people, places, experiences and helped me break through some of my fears and insecurities. What I was lacking at home, band helped make up for. The band trips, competitions, summer camps, and rehearsals all helped to teach me habits, set goals, gain discipline and eventually lead. Participating in All-County, Tri-State, and All-State gave me the determination and courage to become Vice President and Drum Major for the Raider Band.

High school band was my main lifeline that kept me afloat when I felt like I was drowning. My life was juxtaposed: I had this amazing band life at school and a miserable existence at home. Home life had grown more pitiful. Mom was regularly depressed. The hallucinations and delusions were constant. She spent little to no time playing the organ, tending her garden or swimming in the pool–those few joys she had once enjoyed slowly faded. The happy, more sane part of her had been whittled away day-by-day. Dad spoke constantly of divorcing her and moving once I graduated high school. So I took every opportunity to escape the sadness and threw myself into my studies, church and band.

Hard work and the band program at OPHS built the ground that allowed me the opportunity to step into college. My goal was to move out-of-town to get away from my depressing home life and try to build a future of my own. My prayers were answered when I learned in the Spring of 1993 I was accepted into the Florida State University School of Music in the Flute Performance program with a scholarship. My chance to begin building a brighter future started to come into focus.

Band gave me both the creative outlet and sense of belonging I needed in my life. It provided purpose, gave me a focus, gave life meaning and filled me with joy. I made close relationships and lifelong friends. It gave me mentors I could respect and trust. High school band created the space for acceptance, purpose and belonging I craved.

In sharing all this, I hope it didn’t come across as bragging. Rather I am trying to communicate the importance of belonging. How being a part of something bigger than yourself and having purpose can change someone. If I didn’t have band, I don’t know how I would have turned out. My band directors were stable influences that made a huge impact in my life. They cared for us students and grew us as musicians and human beings. The sense of community band provided was life-giving. Being in band made me feel normal, worthy and valued. My abilities and successes help build my self-confidence, but also lent contribution to ensemble. So it wasn't just about me, it was about making US better. I believe God used music and band life as a way to teach me and save me mentally and emotionally. Music and band gave me some hope and belief I could be someone better and not be stuck with the depressing way of life I lived at home. It gave me an outlook for a better future.

Maybe you have struggled with feeling left out or wanting to be a part of something. Maybe your parents mistreated you or you just never fit in with a certain crowd. Or someone you trusted betrayed you. If so, I'm sorry. I want you to know you are loved and treasured. God loves and treasures you exactly how you are. You have a unique gift and talent only you can give to the world. You are a part of something bigger than yourself and can make a difference: whether it is in school, your friends, your family, your children, your job, your neighborhood, your community, and/or world. You have a purpose and you belong to Him. When we realize this, we are able to experience the freedom, peace, love and joy He graciously gives. We just have to shift our perspectives–re-train our brains to believe and have faith. We have to move from our stances of unbelief and negativity step into a position of hope and trust. So regardless of where you came from, what you have done or where you are right now… know you are capable, know you are valued, know you are seen and know you are heard by a God who lovingly and wants what is best for you.