Every year, he puts together a big band of young people to play with a famous jazz musician (or two, three, or more!). I've written about this band before, here, but that was almost three years ago! Time for a retell, I think. :) Every year, these kids and young adults get together on the day of the performance (for their one and only rehearsal!), get given sheet music they haven't seen before, plus a t-shirt to wear on the night, and get shown where to sit. They rehearse, hard, for 6 hours, then come back that night to perform. It's incredibly exciting for a lot of these kids—there's nothing like it in the area. I suspect there might be nothing like it in the country.
Now, when I say a big band, I mean, a really really REALLY big band. It is made up of 150 people. 150! Yes. All those young people work together to create a concert, led by a man with huge vision and energy (my amazing husband, who is helped by lovely, tireless colleagues), all of them running on sheer exuberance, talent, and courage. Some kids have only been playing for a year, and they sit beside people who are in their last year of highschool (even early university), and somehow, it works.
The only things they're asked to do? To have fun. To either play (or look like they're playing!). And to go for it.
My husband came up with this idea about 7 years ago, and his wonderful Conservatorium of Music has put on six Megaband shows so far. I've designed the t-shirt for every concert, and my son has played four times. We've had jazz, funk, and latin greats all come to play as guest artists, and on Friday night, we had 900 people come to watch. It's a thing now. Like, a real THING, something you might imagine kids remembering when they grow up…like, how maybe they got their guitar or music or drum sticks signed by this awesome musician, or how maybe that was the first time they ever properly performed and they were so nervous but they did it, and this maybe was the beginning of them realising they wanted to be a musician.
This lovely night has become part of our mutual history now, part of my family's and my town's story. It makes up some of the colours, the woven pattern of our place here. What a beautiful thing for people to be part (and proud) of.
For me, however, my favourite part of the night was a small and perfect thing. Something that felt so personal, but was shared with over a thousand other people. And afterwards, I felt all weepy with pride.
You see, my husband directed the band wearing Converse sneakers.
Second-hand ones, at that.
He wore a gorgeous black suit, crisp white shirt, grey tie, and these grey canvas "classic" Chuck Taylors. He bought them from the op-shop the other day, scrubbed them clean, and wore them to this "big deal" event. And the lack of black leather 'dress shoes' was noticeable—so much so that one of our two famous guest artists called my husband on it.
The guest who is a friend of my husband's, made a joke about my husband's tennis shoes. He suggested maybe my husband forgot to change shoes, and perhaps my husband needed to borrow his again, like that time four years ago (when my husband actually forgot to bring his own).
That got a good laugh, and then my husband good-humouredly went to the microphone and said something to this effect:
"These aren't just tennis shoes, man. These are Converse all-stars. These were made with no animal products."
Applause rippled through the audience, rose like a quiet wave through the theatre.
"So don't be givin' me grief 'bout my shoes no mo'."
And he grinned at the famous jazz man, who grinned back, and my husband turned to the band and began conducting the next piece, and the famous jazz man began to play something beautiful.
And while the night wasn't—at all—about animals or about ethics or choices or beliefs, the night, for me, became in that moment about something bigger than music, bigger than us sitting here, bigger than 150 kids having the time of their lives. It became about standing up for, reaching up towards, something that is as big as spirit, and as deep.
When my husband could have said nothing, he spoke for living things that do not sing or play or have a voice as we do, but feel as we do. He spoke for creatures who might have loved to listen to the music as we did, and been lifted by that music into joy.