Saturday, August 8, 2009

Don Thornton

Ok, if it's not too late, here's my contribution:

I heard of Mr. Javens long (from the perspective of a kid it was long) before I met him. With three older siblings to pave the way for me I heard many stories (all of which have faded) that grew into a legend in my mind. All I knew was that I had to get old as fast as I could so that I could join the most desirable cult in the history of the World:

The Grantsville High School Band.

There was no doubt in my mind that I would play, or what instrument it would be. Having only one older brother, I naturally practiced and took up his instrument, the trombone. I learned how to buzz my lips to get, at first, a strangled squeek out of a brass instrument (or anything with a mouthpiece--milk jug, pvc pipe, garden hose, hornet's nest--no, scratch the last one), and then to draw a pure tone of music, as my lips got beefier. I learned what it meant to have an embouchure and heard whispers that it would help me to get a girlfriend, eventually. Something about trombone and trumpet players being good kissers...anyway...

I remember meeting Mr. Javens for the first time as he instructed me (officially) in the ways of the trombone, and that my arms were not quite long enough to reach 7th position while maintaining a connection with the mouthpiece. "Don't worry a bit", he said. "You're brother is an excellent player, and I'm sure you'll grow." He told me that my "tone" was amazing. From that moment on, his good opinion meant more than just about any other.

I was always impressed with Mr. Javens' poise. He was "cool" before I knew what the word meant. Even the way he led the music had style. I still chuckle at the conductors of choirs and bands when I see their wild gyrations. I can't help but compare them to my teacher's quiet, controlled posture, one hand at his side ready to point to bring a section in at the right time, and the other hand at the center of his chest, fingers moving out-and-in, out-and-in, keeping time. He always seemed to handle our weaknesses with patience, but was not adverse to handing out the occasional "That was pathetic!".

I never thought of Mr. Javens as a "teacher" at the High School, but as a leader. He could make you seriously want to do better, by simply expecting it of you. It was years after high school that I realized he was a master of creating what didn't yet exist. I spent all that time remembering fondly that I was "the best trombone player in our school" (and the implication was that I was the best in any school around). Gradually, reality set in and I realized that there were only two of us in the entire trombone section. But he made me feel like I was the best and to strive for that with all of my highly distractable, unambitious, ability. I just wish that my brain had managed to come online sooner than it did. I feel like I'm still waking up, mentally, and I would love the chance to go back and truly be the best. He still has that effect on me.

His intelligence was always an influence with me, but his sense of humor made him approachable. He even laughed when we duct-taped his daughter to the bus seat during a road trip to California. He took the 2nd and 3rd degree sunburns we all got on our first day at the beach in stride and simply pointed out that our bus driver was also a paramedic, so not to worry. His occasional jokes and puns were the investment he needed to make in us so that when it was 100 degrees and we were marching down the asphalt of the parking lot he could extract our continuing efforts and make us feel privileged to be there.

My memories of High School are now very blurry to me, but I owe Mr. Jim Javens for some of the best ones I still have. Thank you, Mr. Javens, for the person you chose to be and for investing in all of us.

Don Thornton

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