A Place To Find Your Grin

What I’ll always remember is the smile on his face.

It was really more of a grin than a smile. A smile is something formal. It’s what you do when they point a camera at you and the look on your face is going to be preserved and displayed for the rest of your life. It’s what you do when you meet someone for the first time and you’re a little nervous about it. A smile is what you use to cover-up how you really feel.

But a grin is something you can’t stop. It takes over your whole face. It grabs control of the corners of your mouth and before you know it, your nose and eyes are involved. Even your ears get involved when you grin. A grin is a giggle all over your face.

Sunday afternoon Matty was grinning. I should call him Matt, because when a boy grows taller than his granddad, I don’t know if he’s a Matty anymore. But he’ll always be Matty in my heart.

Our 12-year-old grandson Matt had a band concert Sunday and when it was over I saw him grinning. He was grinning so much it made me grin. There is no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon, or any afternoon, morning or evening for that matter, than grinning with your grandson.

It was a wonderful concert and Matt felt good about his performance. He is a percussionist. That’s a drummer, but they do so much more and play so many different kinds of drums that percussionist is more correct.

But I can remember when Matt wasn’t even as big as the word “percussionist.”

The concert was in our town of West Lafayette, Indiana, which is not a big community but it is home to Purdue University. We all gathered in the West Lafayette High School gym to listen to bands featuring students ranging from fifth grade to seniors in high school.
The entire gym floor was filed with band groups and one side of the bleachers was filled with parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers. We were all grinning.

It’s wonderful when you bring hundreds of parents and family members together for performances like this, whether it’s band, choral, theater, art, sports — whatever. We come together as people and bring all the joys and sorrows of life with us. We all have so many worries and concerns. But no one worries about $4 a gallon gasoline while watching their child or grandchild play a beautiful theme on a bassoon or bring the house down rat-a-tatting on a drum. Free of the unimportant things that bring us down and trouble our lives, we’re able to enjoy what matters most to us all: our children.

It’s as fun to watch the parents as it is to watch the children during concerts like this: the excitement, the pride, and the terror when their child stands to do a solo and the total joy when it goes well.

School band concerts put perspective back in our lives. There’s nothing more important than our children. They are tomorrow. They are our future. They are the greatest natural resource of our nation and world. I felt pretty confident about tomorrow after the West Lafayette school band concert and watching those grinning students.

I felt very good about the teacher in charge of this, too. His name is Matt Conaway. He gets to school before 7 a.m. to lead the younger children, works all day and I’m sure into the evening, along with weekend competitions and events. The students clearly love working with him. And he brings out the best in them. When School Boards consider budgets they should invite the band to perform before the meeting. It’s important to see the great returns on your investments.

We’re near the end of another academic year and there are lots of performances at schools in the weeks ahead. Sometimes we look at our calendars and wonder how we’ll get through it all. We just need to go and enjoy.

A couple years ago my wife, Jeanne, and I went to a concert in a community center in Bertesgarten, Germany. It turned out we had misread the posters for the event. We thought it was a community orchestra concert. It turned out to be children, one by one, doing piano recitals to a theater packed with parents and grandparents. Beethoven would have run screaming from the building. But you’ve never seen so many happy, proud parents.

School concerts are a celebration of life, present and future. You should take all your troubles and worries to one as soon as possible.

I promise, you’ll find your grin.

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