Former students bring particular joy at JazzFest

By: Michael Bird


Elsewhere in this newspaper, you’ll read an article about the success of the eighth annual Tallassee JazzFest.

In that article, I try to thank the people who made it possible.

In this space this week, I want to recognize four very special people who weren’t mentioned in the news article.

A music teacher gets into the profession hoping to perpetuate the learning of music; somehow, someway, through those weekly rides on cheese wagons to parts unknown across the state, we get to know our students on a deeper level than, say, a regular classroom teacher. And when students become part of bigger things, such as All-State, we travel with them and spend even more time getting to know them.

In other words, a student can become part of the family.

I was nearly in tears Friday night at JazzFest when I introduced the Auburn University Jazz Ensemble. It’s one of the toughest bands to get into – and you have to be really, really good to even consider auditioning for it. You also have to dedicate yourself to making music a priority.

So I couldn’t help but burst with pride to see the top two saxophonists in that band were from Tallassee: Tommy Britt and Andrew Webster.

I can remember them playing recorder in general music. I recall the day they opened up their instruments for the first time. I have some characteristically memorable recordings of their renditions of “Hot Cross Buns” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with the Southside Middle School band.

I also remember that they were early adopters of the jazz band at Southside. And look how far they’ve come! To know that the Southside band played even the smallest role in their lives brought me a great deal of joy as I listened to them play.

If that weren’t overwhelming enough, the next band to play after Auburn was the current Southside band. Their director is Melanie Perry, and she, too, was a former student of mine. I can certainly remember how dedicated she was from the day she got her instrument. I drove her all over the state to every honor band we could find. When she was in seventh grade, she already knew she was going to be a band director (and already knew a lot more about it than I probably ever will).

In the same class with Melanie was another student named Donna Flowers. She, too, became a music teacher and is currently a choral director in north Alabama. It just so happens that our new choral director at First Baptist Church is Michael Scarborough from Thomasville. Donna served as the band director at Thomasville High School, which is where she met her husband – Michael Scarborough’s hunting buddy of many years.

The connections were so powerful this week, I had to pause and reflect on them. We never know if what we say or do means anything at all. I would never wish to take credit for these people or their successes. But I sure am glad that I was a part of their experience as their middle school band director.

Michael Bird is choral Director and assistant band director for Tallassee City Schools.