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  • Writer's pictureTori Leto

Resilience and Harmony: Lessons from My Band Director

Today is National Band Director Day, and I want to use this opportunity to share the story of Mr. Herrmann and I.

Throughout high school, I spent more time with Mr. Herrmann, my band director, than with my own family. I was in several band classes, practiced before school, and stayed after for rehearsals for both marching and concert bands. To avoid the cafeteria, I often spent my lunch periods in the band room under the guise of needing to practice, though the real reason was that I didn't have a group to sit with.

My freshman year of high school was a particularly tough time for me. I faced intense drama and bullying, not only from students but also from some parents. I was given cruel nicknames, and I wasn’t invited to band events like the brass party or the DCI viewing party. I remember showing up with chips, dip, and soda, only to be turned away by other band moms and members who didn’t want me there. I felt like an outcast in a program stereotypically known for being a haven for outcasts.

I was fifteen and suffering from panic attacks that kept me from attending school for a full day. What was supposed to be my safe haven felt like hell. Mr. Herrmann did his best to manage the dichotomy within the program, but I resented him. I blamed him for my unhappiness, projecting all my frustrations onto him. I was constantly getting in trouble, questioning his leadership, and refusing his guidance. I met him with anger and frustration, wanting to leave the band program but finding reasons each year why switching schools or graduating early wasn't possible. Deep down, I think I stayed because I couldn't imagine my identity without music.

Despite being a problem child who should have been kicked out several times, Mr. Herrmann knew I was struggling and continued to forgive my mistakes. He pushed me to grow as a musician, a leader, and a person, holding me to a higher standard than others, which only fueled my anger. I spent every day eager for college, rolling my eyes at every attempt Mr. Herrmann made to connect with me or guide me.

Despite my attitude, Mr. Herrmann never gave up on me. He saw something in me that I didn't see in myself — potential. He pushed me to be better, even when I pushed back. And slowly, something changed. Over time, I got better. My anxiety, my playing, and my behavior improved. I went from last chair to first, from having no friends in the program to being one of the most favored seniors. I felt celebrated, loved, and wanted in the band room, building close bonds with my classmates and those in lower grades. I was eager to complete my senior year and celebrate my achievements, but then the pandemic hit. Instead of final bows and awards, the end of the school year was reduced to online forms and worksheets. I was devastated.

Seeking closure, I asked Mr. Herrmann to meet for breakfast after the school year was officially canceled. Sitting at Cracker Barrel, I sobbed, apologizing for the years of difficulties I had caused him. I finally understood that he believed in me and wanted me to grow.

In high school, I never understood why graduates would return to visit, but after my meeting with Mr. Herrmann, I realized I wouldn't be who I am or where I am without him and the program. I learned valuable lessons about leadership, myself, and life, albeit the hard way. Now, as an adult, I am grateful for my high school experience. Despite entering with dreams of being prom queen and student body president, I struggled and suffered, but I emerged with valuable insight, emotional intelligence, perspective, and leadership skills. I wouldn't trade those years for anything.

Mr. Herrmann always went beyond his duties as a band director to support his students, even me, his most "awful student". Now, I refer to Mr. Herrmann as family. I have attended family gatherings, dinners, birthdays, and other monumental events with him and his family. Despite being the biggest pain in his butt, he forgave me and continues to push me even today.

Mr. Herrmann is not just a band director or a teacher. He is a mentor, a leader, and everything I aspire to be for others. He epitomizes leadership, compassion, and gratitude. I am not the only student he has positively impacted, but I am one of the loudest to cheer for him at uncalled-for times because that is who I am—his biggest pain in the butt.

Thank you, Mr. Herrmann, for the tough love, the lessons you've imparted on me, and the legacy you have left at Durant, in my life, and the lives I now touch because of the imprint you have left on mine.

An honorable mention among the band figures who left an incredible mark on me is Dennis Laorenza, my trumpet teacher. I met Dennis in high school, where his tough love approach initially brought me to tears. In symphonic band, he would have each player perform alone to identify mistakes, and during private lessons, my continuous errors often made me feel like a failure. Though I hated him less than Mr. Herrmann, I think it was because I blamed myself for my mistakes, believing I was pushing Dennis to frustration.

However, over time, the tears stopped, and grit and resilience built up. I was able to work with Dennis, and I continued to excel as a musician. Beyond his musical influence, Dennis imparted valuable life lessons that I still hold dear today. 

One of his frequent reminders was to “stand and deliver,” essentially urging me to “get out of your damn head.” I have always struggled with overthinking, which sabotaged my playing by causing silly mistakes out of nerves. Dennis would remind me that I had prepared day in and day out, and playing my horn should be as natural as brushing my teeth if I could just turn my brain off and play.

Another of his frequent quotes was, “Leave it at the door, put the horn to your face, and play.” He demanded that my attention be on the task at hand, not on the drama left at the door. This approach helped me manage my sensitivity and intense feelings, allowing me to focus on improving despite what I might be going through.

Both Mr. Herrmann and Dennis taught me resilience. I cannot imagine navigating life after high school without the lessons they imparted. Thank you, Mr. Herrmann and Dennis, for your tough love, guidance, and the invaluable lessons you've taught me. Your influence continues to shape who I am today.

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