It was shocking to say the least. Absolute Shock. Extra-ordinarily shocking, actually. Why? Because even though I had not seen him in a couple of years, I talk about, think about, or tell someone about Mr. Fortlander almost every day. He was my teacher for 7 years. Not many teachers have an opportunity to impact a student for that long, and he never wasted a second of that time. From 6th grade when I first picked up a pair of drumsticks, until I graduated high school, he was the one ever-present face in my life other than people in my family.
Mr. Fortlander taught me music. No, Mr. Fortlander taught me discipline. Because music is discipline. It’s one of those art forms that can’t be fully appreciated by anyone else other than the performer. Only the performer knows all of the emotions felt, sacrifices made, hours of sleep lost, hot summer days spent, and long months endured practicing so that one 10 minute performance could be as good as it could possibly be.
Mr. Fortlander taught me how to be a leader. He had the best leadership style of anyone I’ve ever known. He had a unique ability to demand really hard things from people every day, and still maintain the best of relationships with them. His influence was wide, and when I was playing, I knew he was listening. I wanted to show him that I did the work, and earn that smile.
His smile. He was good at faces. He was very expressive. He communicated a lot by giving you “a look.” My favorite “look” was a combination of: a single raised eyebrow, and disbelief. If you ever got the look, you know what I’m talking about. It was the look he gave you when you were getting busted for some shenanigan you know you shouldn’t have been doing. It was the look that said, “Seriously? You’re better than that.” Then without a word spoken by either party, he would go back to teaching, and I would go back to being a model student. It was true. He honestly believed that we were better. He believed in us.
A co-worker at the studio has a son who is exactly the same age now, as I was then. He’s a drummer in his high school band, and I have been re-living my drumline glory days this past year as she shares updates on what his band is doing.
My wife Ashlie and I first began our relationship together on a Falcon Pride marching band trip to Walt Disney World when I was 15 in 2001. I played snare drum, she the flute. We actually just got back from a family vacation in Disney World this April, and we made it a point to show our 3 children where we marched around Main Street USA, and tell them about how hot it was, how my marching line had to march with one foot in the trolley track the whole time, and how it rained that morning, and how their mommy and daddy had their first date over hot dogs at Casey’s Corner. It was the details that brought back memories.
The details. They are what set apart the best from the masses. Mr. Fortlander was set apart. Oh, was he.
At the end of every marching band rehearsal he would call us to attention by yelling, “BAND, TEN-HUT!” and we would shout back together in response as loud as we could, “GO!” or, as it was eventually changed to, “PRIDE!” Sometimes he would do it 3 or 4 times consecutively to get us really fired up. It was awesome. I loved it.
The gift of music inside a person is a priceless resource that is discovered, mined, refined, and consumed. He could find it in me. He could get it out of me. He got me to take pride in my gift, and he gave me opportunities to use it beautifully.
Thank you. “Band Ten-Hut,” Mr. Fortlander. You have been called home.
John Glenn Falcon Pride Drumline, 2000-2004