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Once Again, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Thomas Palmatier • December 2021InService • December 18, 2021

Regular readers of this column may recognize this is the fourth annual installment of a column with this theme. Just writing that made me look back and count my monthly SBO Magazine columns and the number is now 44. Reflecting on the incredible changes in all of our lives over nearly four years makes this article somewhat of a retrospective.

In 2018, I shared tales of holidays spent in far-flung regions, to include several combat zones. In 2019, I reflected on the reality that not all of our students had a wonderful time, saying, “So, while this may be the most wonderful time of the year, for many of our students, it can be even more challenging because their reality does not match the idealized images they are bombarded with. But every single day of the year, you have the chance to make their lives better by creating a music classroom where everyone is valued, where everyone feels safe, and where, regardless of circumstances, we all come together to express ourselves though music.”

The December 2020 article was of course, in the throes of a global pandemic, with over 250,000 dead Americans when we were all struggling to find a silver lining in a dark cloud, leading me to write, “If you are struggling to find your purpose this holiday season, find a way to renew the childish joy of music in you and your students. Focus on the students in a year where we don’t need to worry about scores at contest or marching band competitions. You and your love of music can make this the most wonderful time of the year.”

Here we are in December 2021 and the community band I direct is back to rehearsing and performing, with precautions. Students are again making music in band and orchestra classes and have adapted to bell covers, masks, and other safeguards. However, we cannot assume everything is back to normal with now more than 700,000 dead Americans and counting. Indeed, as I write this, I’m in quarantine. Despite being fully vaccinated, I caught some of the Delta variant (probably while teaching!). However, I am so thankful because my physician said without the vaccine I’d be in the hospital (or worse). Instead, I’m sitting at home with what feels like a terrible cold, confident I’ll be back on a podium next week. Even better, in December I’ll be conducting a group of amateur (definition: those who do it for love) musicians performing wonderful holiday music for a live audience.

Will I ever take the experience of performing music for granted after the last two years? Absolutely not! Every one of us has our own beliefs but for me, a vaccine may have saved my life and has allowed me to keep making music. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.” Let’s find common principles in our love of music, love of students, and love of performing.

Starting in this month’s issue, SBO will tell the musical journey of some of our nation’s military musicians. I had the wonderful privilege of serving alongside these patriots and artists and hope you enjoy learning how their careers unfolded. Next month I will highlight the benefits of a musical life after one’s school years in America’s community bands.

Col. (Ret.) Thomas Palmatier

Colonel (Retired) Thomas H. Palmatier is the former leader and commander of The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” and commander and conductor of The United States Army Field Band. He holds degrees in music education from the Crane School of Music (State University of New York at Potsdam) and Truman State University as well as a Master of Strategic Studies degree from the U.S. Army War College. He is an active clinician, adjudicator, and guest conductor of concert bands, orchestras, jazz ensembles, and marching bands. He is a Conn-Selmer Clinician, and a member of the American Bandmasters Association.

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