A different beat

I park my truck in a darkened lot every Monday and Wednesday night, and I wait. I usually have my radio turned up and the bass from the door speaker rhythmically stirs the stale air in my cab. It takes five minutes, 10 at most, for the children to swarm out of Stillwater’s front door. My daughter is one of them, and she’s always smiling.

The Stillwater Foundation studios are sandwiched in between a taxi dispatch office and an alley that pours out right across from the northernmost City Market. As one of the local nonprofits here in Durango, it’s dedicated to teaching our youth the art of music, and it does so adroitly. Without it, I swear my oldest daughter would’ve been swallowed up long ago by the introverted gene I accidentally passed on. From a distance, you’d swear she was spared such a fate. She’s this demure little beauty with jade eyes and a lambent smile. She has this odd gravitational pull around her, which, like a tractor beam, draws in friends and family. But behind her braces-encrusted smile is a drawn-in mind. All of the wonderment that is my child is surrounded by a fortification, and about a year ago, the wife and I decided that it needed to crumble. Music was to be our battering ram.

It made sense. Direct expression felt so alien to me when I was young and lost. So I played my drums, and I found a way out. It worked. And since our daughter is my feminine carbon copy, pure, cold logic dictated that it might work for her as well. Luckily, she, too, was born with a latent musical talent. There was a hidden pro to my genetic con. My wife and I went the generic route at first. We piled in front of our daughter a panoply of musical instruments. I gave her lessons with strings and drumsticks. We found someone named Ryan who leavened her burgeoning love for the piano. But music was something she could love alone. She just took it into her fortifications and winched down the portcullis. We needed something else. Ryan is one of the teachers at Stillwater, and serendipitously, he brought her into the fold.

That first day, when we walked our daughter through Stillwater’s front door, is one of those indelible memories that I’ll never lose. She trailed behind us. The room was warm and it was filled with instruments and microphones and acoustic trappings. There was a new teacher in the room. His name was Jared (the man is a certifiable savant on the trumpet). But more importantly, there were other musically gifted children in the room … they were all boys. My daughter’s pallid skin flushed red. She froze. Her eyes locked with laser focus on the exit and our hopes teetered on a precipice. So we threw her to the wolves and left. You know, because we’re good parents. We waited just outside and then came to her rescue a few moments later.

(As a side note, did you know that a moment is technically 90 seconds? It’s an actual, measurable thing. How weird is that?) But I bet those moments felt like individual eternities to our daughter. When we asked if she ever wanted to go back, she answered monosyllabically. Yes. I pretended to not care one way or the other, but in my mind, I threw an epic party of celebration complete with fanfare and fireworks. So we paid Stillwater’s freakishly small fee and brought her back, again and again. Our biweekly trips to Stillwater’s front door are like imperative pilgrimages. She thinks that it’s music, we know that it’s therapy.

For children like my child, band is like a team sport. Developmentally, it’s huge. It teaches them how to be social with others of their ilk. And within band, music is their language. It’s this weird and wonderful esoteric way of communication, like a syncopated pig Latin if you will, which most people only get to enjoy from the crowd. Without music, without Stillwater, my daughter would still be brooding behind the crenulations of her fortifications. I owe more than the aforementioned pittance my wife and I pay monthly. Like I mentioned earlier, they’re a registered nonprofit, and they’re putting on a benefit concert and silent auction starting at 1 p.m., Sun., Dec. 14, at the VFW hall downtown.

Please come. Please help Stillwater continue to teach our youth the language of music so children like my own and others in our community can come out from behind their fortifications.

J.J. Anderson

For more information on The Stillwater Foundation, please visit www.stillwaterfoundation.org