This is a new series I’m working on. It started out as my list for this week and then took over my thought life (which was preferrable to the dream about driving a car without brakes that had been lurking there). Here are some teachers who’ve left their life prints on me. Part one:
Mr. Tony Mazzara (in this case I’m using his real name, I won’t for all these stories…)
Mr. Maz was a brilliant music teacher and band leader but the life lessons he taught us were invaluable and fresh long after the trombone was scrap metal. Band class was always unpredictable, if you kept messing up on a line you just might get a chalkboard eraser thrown in your direction. He kept a red tennis ball on his music stand and if the tubas or bass messed up he’d try to toss the ball in the bell of their horn. Missing was better than hitting as it created chaos as the trumpets, clarinets and saxaphones tried to dodge the bouncing ball.
One year someone, some guy or guys, decided to mess with one of the girls in the band: an oboe player or one of the flautists. They would sneak a playboy magazine centerfold into her instrument case at some point in the day and set it up so that when she opened up the case, WAAAW, there was Miss November. I don’t know how long it went on but I do remember the morning that Mazzara had had enough. He called all of the guys into a little classroom away from the bandroom. We had no idea what was going on or what to expect but we knew it was going to be good.
Ol’ Maz starts up a lecture on not being jerks, not messing with people and then he does it,
a moment I will never,
He pulled out the latest centerfold and lets it drop, staple holes and all. He was going for shock and shock he did. My first and last teacher to whip out a centerfold in class.
The best part was that he kept holding it/her there and talking about how fake, tired, used and whorish Miss November looked. While we may have disagreed about Miss November, he made all of us (and most of us were only hearing about this ongoing incident for the first time) feel stupid, childish and embarrassed by talking to us like adults. He basically suggested that a real man would put a live, naked girl in the bandroom and a only a wuss would keep doing the centerfold thing and we all laughed and inadvertently shamed the guy or guys that had been doing it. He was a master.
I’ll always remember him as a man with great, um, the word I learned in Spanish Class is, ‘cojones’. For years he would take our band to a giant Marching Band Day at a Northwestern University football game. This was pretty much the ONLY time we were a marching band. We would practice for a few weeks so we could march in a semi-straight line and formation out onto the field at half-time with the rest of the bands. The size of his “cojones” was proved in this: we had no real uniforms. We did have tuxes. So while every other band marched out in shiny, colourful, marching band uniforms, the RHS band, under the leadership of Mr. Tony Mazzara, from podunk Rochester, Illinois, marched out like a flock of penguins in our ill-fitting tuxes with black bow ties and ruffled dickies.
During the school year two friends of mine (Bryan Baggins and Darin Burns – we’ll call them) and I were messing around during lunch. These two guys were the kind of guys who totally wrecked the Bell Curve for the rest of us and up to that time the three of us had only seen the inside of the principal’s office to tell on someone or, in Darin’s case, to explain why his GPA was actually higher than he was getting credit for.
The end result of our messing around that day was a broken window. We got in a little trouble. Here’s where Mazzara comes in. A couple weeks later our concert band is playing our Spring Concert for a packed gym. Halfway through the concert Mr. Maz asks for Brian, Bryan and Darin to please stand up. IN THE CONCERT. PACKED GYM. Mr. Mazzara then goes on to provoke the crowd to give us a standing ovation for breaking the window and getting into trouble. So there we were, our parent’s probably dying a thousand deaths, as we received our first, and possibly last, standing ovation. Mazzara was proud of us.
Our band always received the highest marks in any competition we ever entered. He produced great musicians and a great band year in and year out. He shared his life with us, the good and the bad, the tough and the sweet and more than music, Tony taught us about being real, being an original. He’s moved on now to a much better gig but I’m sure he’s still making music and making people laugh.