Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thanks, Mr. Fariss

So I capped off our vacation week with some good old VHS nostalgia. My parents had transferred some tapes to DVD, but two of them were copyrighted by the professional videographers. So I watched them in their original format while I packed two suitcases and four carryon bags.

And suddenly I was 14 again, wearing a sweltering black wool uniform and plumed hat that left an indentation in my forehead. The music is etched in my subconscious, and I could hum along to all of it. I have no doubt that in 15 more years, I still will.

One of the great things about Texas' obsession with High School football is the bleed-over effect onto programs that provide halftime entertainment. In my years at our school, the football team wasn't great, but the drill team, cheerleaders, and marching band all won regional and state awards.

I was in the marching band. And that meant I was under the direction of Jack Fariss. He was an institution in our town. Some called him Papa Jack. I'm a grownup and I'm still afraid to call him that. He's Mr. Fariss to me, and always will be.

He knew how to make a difference in people's lives: take a group of kids, challenge them to do something really hard, and push them until they could do it really well. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of pushing, because teenagers are a notoriously lazy and stubborn bunch...

The list of things I learned from Mr. Fariss could go on for a very long time, but here are a few highlights:

"Practice like you want to perform"
"Fake it 'till you make it"
"Take care of your stuff!" (in other words, don't let you problems in the rest of your life interfere with your band life. Just deal with it and be ready to show up and perform)
"On time is 15 minutes late!" (if he gives a downbeat at the top of the hour, you'd better be there early.)
Use your peripheral vision. (This helps keep marching lines straight. It also helps keep the big picture straight in the rest of your life.)
It's easier to do the right thing the first time than be lazy and have to Mile March later.
Sometimes you just have to move fast.
You have to practice to be good.
You have to practice more than you want to to be really good.
You don't have to win 1st in State to be proud of what you created. (although 3rd in State was pretty nice)

Hours spent on a sweltering practice field taught a lot about work ethic. And about how to be a small but accountable member of a big group.

But I would be remiss if I didn't address the topic of music education.

Band provided exposure to music. Good music. The kind of music you pay lots of money to hear in symphony halls across our nation. We heard it. We played it. In the process, we learned a lot about music. How it's played differently across different cultures. How it evokes emotion. How it can make your heart swell when you play it well.

I had more classical music exposure than my college classmates who went to expensive private schools. And better work ethic...

I attribute this to Mr. Fariss.

Education budget cuts threaten band programs. Threaten kids' chances to have a Jack Fariss of their own. I can't help but think that this is bad thing for the future of our nation...

Did you have your own Jack Fariss?
If you knew the real Mr. Fariss, what do you still carry with you?


  1. preserving public education budgets!? Quick, Joy!! Review the conservative talking points before they cast you from the fold!!! Of course, there's always room beside me at the bleeding heart liberals meet-up......

  2. Oh JJ, they disowned me when I registered for classes at my bleeding heart liberal Yankee university years ago. When I bought property here, they gave up all hope...

  3. AMEN!!! I loved, loved, loved this post!!! You hit the nail on the head!!!!!

    1. Thanks Niki!
      I saw you in those videos too, by the way...

  4. I remember a discussion my parents and Mr. Fariss had - it may have been about the time "Uncle Jack" retired and my dad thanking Mr. Fariss for instilling respect in us. My mom and dad expected no less from us, but so did Mr. Fariss.

    He just expected us to be good, to act right and to do our best - nothing less.

    When I think back on high school some 30-something years later, my memories all seem to revolve around band. I think that says something as well. Band and Mr. Fariss were a big part of my life then and I think still a big part of my life today.

    1. I pray that my daughters can have such an influence in their educational lives!

  5. My family didn't move to Pearland until the start of my junior year. My last two years of high school as a member of the PHS Band with Mr. Fariss helped prepare me for what I do now. I am a high school band director. Thank you Mr.Fariss!

    1. That's great! I wonder how many students eventually became band directors under his influence...