Open letter from Alissa Perlman, former Greenwich High School band student
Dear Members of the Greenwich Board of Education:
I attended Greenwich High School from September 1995 to February 1997 (my freshman and first-semester sophomore years) before moving to Pittsburgh, PA, and I took several music classes from Mr. Yoon during that time. The culture shock I experienced after moving to Pittsburgh was almost too much to handle. Before seeing how a mediocre band teacher handled class in Pittsburgh, it never would have occurred to me that having one hundred students in a hall all with things to blow or bang on is a recipe for bedlam if the teacher cannot exercise authority over the students and the students are not expected to maintain a certain amount of self control.
I did not major in music after high school, but I did learn some very important life lessons from attending several of Mr. Yoon’s music classes.
If You’re Early You’re on Time, and If You’re on Time You’re Late
Mr. Yoon taught me that being on time for class means having your instrument out and being in your seat ready to play when the bell rings. This was a difficult lesson for me because I was a chatty kid. But I later found out that in the corporate world your boss doesn’t accept hall passes and wasting the time of your coworkers is unacceptable. After watching several of my coworkers scramble to set up the technology at the beginning of a meeting that they had arrived to “on time,” I became thankful to have learned this lesson before leaving school.
Responsibilities Rather Than Rights
I played the bassoon in high school, an instrument not at all suited to marching band. I would gladly have taken the easy way out and only played in the concert band. Mr. Yoon gave me the choice of playing any other marching band instrument but he did not excuse me from participating in marching band. I now understand that I would have felt alienated had I not been held to the standard of all the other band students, and many of them would have been jealous of me if I had been excused from marching band when they weren’t. I now realize that people need to be held to the same standard as others to feel as though they are equals.
Self Control, Delayed Gratification, and Mindfulness
When rehearsing a piece of music there is an overwhelming temptation to plow through to the end no matter what problems crop up along the way. Finishing a piece of music causes an endorphin rush and a feeling of accomplishment that can be difficult to delay. Mr. Yoon would sometimes begin the run-through of the piece but stop after only a few measures, reminding us to listen to each other, play tightly together, and strive to get the notes and rhythms right despite having never seen the music before. It was not until I switched to my new school that I realized how difficult it was for the teacher to stop the band when the energy of the music begs the students to continue playing. Stopping over and over again was frustrating in the moment, but I believe that the lessons I learned from this method have had a positive effect on all areas of my life.
Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect: Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
Arriving at the end of a piece of music can feel like winning a race but it is not the point of rehearsal. Rather, drilling the difficult passages to eliminate errors, sitting quietly while elements of the band learn how their parts work together, and staying cognizant of the entire band and conductor rather than just one’s notes is what lead to success. This lesson comes up for me any time a task is too difficult to get right the first time.
Teams Sink or Swim Together
Mr. Yoon taught us that the band either succeeds or fails together, and success comes from paying attention to the conductor and the other players rather than simply one’s own music sheets. After going to work in the corporate world it became obvious to me how working with a team on a project is similar to playing in a band. The project manager is the conductor and the various teams are the different instruments. One must always keep one eye on the conductor and an ear on the different instrument sections or the project/music could fall apart in an instant.
In conclusion, if feel lucky to have been taught by a teacher with the professionalism of John Yoon. Although I no longer play the bassoon I remain shaped by the good habits he instilled in me so many years ago.
Class of 1999