Two Years

For the two years that I was stationed in Hawaii, anytime I wasn’t going to night school or doing something work related, I was either practicing or playing, determined to one day be good enough to be a Drum Instructor at the School of Music.

The environment at the School was awesome. Everyone there was focused on improving themselves. Combine that with a military dynamic and you’ve got one motivating situation!

I got orders back to the SOM (School of Music) in ’84. Whereas before I was a PFC, now I was coming back as a Sergeant. Since the majority of the students that comprised the population at the School were just coming out of Boot Camp, you had a default position of authority by virtue of your rank. And I don’t mean just the regular courtesy you extend to someone who’s senior to you. Because your stripes were associated with the Drill Instructor and the Recruit Training they had just graduated from, you were greeted in the hallway by everyone saying, “Good morning, Sergeant.” They were conditioned to perceive you as someone to be respected and obeyed without question.

Because they almost expected you to be stern, if you responded by being friendly and legitimately interested in their welfare, you were in a great position to make a big impression.

That’s another reason why I wanted to be an Instructor. You could breathe a mammoth amount of life and inspiration into a student who was extremely impressionable given the credibility you had as a Non-Commissioned Officer.

But First…

But first, I had to graduate the Intermediate Course. It was six months long and it was an intensive curriculum that had you doing Traditional Harmony, Arranging, Ear Training, Conducting and more. At one point, you had to arrange a composition for an entire Stage Band. Not only did you have to write out the score, but you also had to write out all the parts by hand.

But while Arranging could be challenging, my biggest concern was Traditional Harmony. Harmony is the study of how music is composed using Bass, Tenor, Alto and Soprano. It hails back to the days when the popular music was Operas and Symphony Orchestra performances. It serves as the basis for a lot of musical structure today, so it’s an important part of your development as a musician.

While you’re working on your projects and your homework, you’re sometimes called upon to lead group PT (Physical Training), which means you’re in front of approximately 100 hardchargers, calling out the exercise and yelling the cadence. I loved doing it, but taken together, you’re looking at a very busy schedule and there’s not a lot of room for error.

You didn’t get a grade, per se. It was either pass or fail. That’s why the Final Exams are so crucial because if you fall short, you get one chance to take the test again. If you fail a second time, you get stationed somewhere in the states or in Japan and you have to wait a couple of years before you can try again.

Traditional Harmony was my greatest worry. You were given a Final Project that was designed to take you all night to finish. The following morning you were to turn it in and then take your Final Exam.

I failed both.

Guess What?

Now while all this is going on, one of the Drum Instructors that was currently on staff announced he was going to leave. That meant there was a spot. That, in and of itself, was a miracle, as far as being at the School at the precise time an opening for a Drum Instructor became available.

So, it was decided that I was going to audition for some of the senior staff members at the School in order to qualify as a Drum Instructor.

But if I failed Traditional Harmony, that whole opportunity would be potentially gone.

I was exhausted. I was running on very little sleep and I was intimidated right down to my socks. If I failed either the Final Project or the Final Exam for Harmony one more time, I was going to be sent back out to the Fleet and my dreams of both graduating and becoming a Drum Instructor would be put on an indefinite hold.

It all came down to a period of time in the space of one that that probably didn’t last more than four hours.

I turned in my Final Project, I took the Final Exam and then took my Staff Audition.

I passed!

And, where all you’re required to score on your audition is a 3.2 to be hired as an Instructor, I got a 3.3.


It all landed in a great spot, but when I first learned I had failed and would have one chance to retake and resubmit everything as well as learning I would be auditioning for a position I had been working towards for the last two years, all I could do initially was just get some sleep. It was almost like I was watching someone else, you’re an emotional wreck and you feel like you’re hanging by a thread.

There’s a verse in Psalm 139 that says:

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Ps 139:16)

There’s a strong sense of comfort knowing that everything you encounter in this life is something that was known before it ever actually happened.

God had every moment of your life “written in his book” before it ever came to be. He knew your triumphs and He knew when you were going to fall short and when you would need an extra dose of wisdom and calm in order to function properly.

It’s hard when you’re looking at a situation or a report card or a letter or rejection and not wonder why God would allow that kind of hurt.

Paul, who was no stranger to some serious pain, wrote this in his letter to the church in Corinth:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Cor 1:3-4)

It was because of the way Paul had seen God move, heal and direct in his own life, that he could be a legitimate source of wisdom and encouragement for those who were going through something similar.

Sometime God allows you to hurt as a form of discipline (Heb 12:5-7). But sometimes He allows you to experience some discomfort as a way to build your faith so that you’re not only better prepared for the larger challenges that await you down the road, but also so you can someday “comfort” those who are going through something that you can legitimately identify with. (Heb 12:11; Jas 1:2-4).

His Ways

Isaiah 55:8-11…

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Is 55:8-11)

God’s Purpose for your life (Jer 29:11; Eph 2:10) often requires you to be more than you are right now. You’ve got to grow and you have to mature, and I don’t mean just physically. Sometimes you’ve got deploy that kind of faith where if He doesn’t do something, it’s just not going to work, and that’s a hard place to be in. But if you’re going to grab that prize, you’ve got to reach and sometimes, it’s difficult (Phil 3:12). But there is a purpose in the pain and every day of your life is…


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