"Again please - gently," smiled our guest conductor. This was the sixth time he had to ask our oboist to play her entrance.
My heart went out to her. The orchestra rehearsal had already stretched over the hour and a half allotted. All of us were a little tired and waiting anxiously for our dinner break before the evening performance. She hit the note again, but her entrance sounded almost like a ball-peen hammer striking an anvil.
Then, the conductor stepped from the podium, and, leaning forward, gently took her hand - and squeezed. "Just love the note," he said, smiling. The message got through. Her next attempt was such a beautiful, smooth, tender entrance. Smiles all around. And, yes, her performance that evening was just as gentle and beautiful.
I was impressed by his gracious request. He didn't get exasperated. He didn't give technical instruction about breathing and oboe reeds. He didn't give the part to another oboe player. He showed her, by gently squeezing her hand, how to evoke the note, and then he let her do it.
This experience came to mind a few years later when the harmony of my kindergarten classroom was being disrupted daily by one little guy. Everything about him was harsh and aggressive. Even his clothes, which were torn and didn't fit, had aggressive images of pro wrestlers on them. Most of all, he just seemed angry. His entrance into the classroom every morning was akin to that clanging oboe entrance. It just didn't fit the harmony I felt should be expressed in my classroom.
Each day, this boy found more ways to disrupt than I knew were possible. Standard classroom management techniques were hit or miss when dealing with him. The music teacher always had an incident to report when I went to collect my kids from her class. Finally, when he had spent some "quality time" in the principal's office for kicking another child, I turned to God. Prayer had always aided me any time I felt I was floundering.
In my prayers, I reached out to God as my gracious, loving Father-Mother. And I believe that divine affection and care includes everyone, even the troublesome boy. I began to see that there was a place in the classroom just for this little boy, and that it was right that he should fit into this place. I also realized the music of this boy's life was not filled with the inharmonies of anger, indifference, or harsh entrances, but with the tenderness of God's love.
In fact, I saw another dimension to what the conductor expressed with that young oboist. It was more than a gentle squeeze of her hand. With his simple gesture and statement he had conveyed his love of each and every note in that piece of music, and with that I think the oboe player felt genuinely cared for, got new insight into the music, and was able then to communicate her newfound understanding with a beautiful, tender entrance.
It was my turn to firmly and gently love the boy and his place in the harmony of our classroom. From then on, I was at the door every morning to hug him when he arrived and see him as God's beloved child. I began a firm, gentle process of loving each of the children in the class. I spent a little longer complimenting good behavior. I took extra time to tenderly explain proper behavior when needed. I became more patient.
There were still bumpy moments, but as this prayerful process progressed, the results were remarkable. This little guy's aggressive behavior ended. He became a happier child with a smile on his face as he entered the classroom. His work improved, and he had friends to play with at recess. He started coming to school dressed in new clothes. I was thrilled when one hectic morning, I looked up and saw him sitting quietly, working on his morning activity. His entrance into the classroom had been so gentle and harmonious I didn't even see him come in!
This experience helped me realize how important it is to love each note and tone in this grand symphony of a universe God has created. Each person has a place and can operate in harmony with everyone else. We can give a gentle squeeze to our neighbor's hand, encouraging their best performance.