By Cheryl Tristam
This year has been challenging and getting more so in recent weeks. But I want to write about Friday instead. I won’t forget the day for many reasons. I want to share it so it and its lesson burn a little deeper in my memory cells, and perhaps what I learned today will mean something to you as well.
Those who know me through the Flagler Youth Orchestra are likely aware of what most others are not: that we were asked to relocate the nearly two-decade-old strings program from where it’s been at Indian Trails Middle School for the past 13 years. We had to vacate six ample and cohesive classroom spaces and an office and move it all to storage and the school cafeteria, where we may have to reinvent rehearsals in shared space. That impossible trick is still ahead.
Moving within the same campus doesn’t sound so bad. But we’re two weeks away from a concert by our top orchestra, a month away from our final Flagler Auditorium concert featuring all ensembles, and where Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt is performing, and we will likely need to move again in August. That destination is unnervingly uncertain. We’ve been in this perfect location for 13 years. Even if we’re not going far for now, it is a departure from home. For musical ensembles there is no substitute for the close-knit familiarity of the rehearsal space. Our walls were literally framed in musical notes.
For obvious reasons I think what we do is important, and there are times when I don’t feel like this work is respected as much as it should be. Teachers who have been in this line of work for many years more than I have shared stories of teaching spaces that include broom closets, hallways and the like. We know very well that the last 13 years in particular were luxurious beyond words. I won’t say more about that because I always, always have hope for collaboration and engagement for the future of this program that has always felt like my third child.
Friday was moving day. We have a lot of stuff. Seventeen years’ worth. Having only learned where we were going late on Wednesday, I put out the call to our families for help that night. Being honest, I am not always convinced my emails are read. I smile as I write this, because I completely understand. Parents are busy. The request for help was also for the first day of spring break. Timing was lousy.
Yet in less than 24 hours, 28 people promised to help. The response was overwhelming, and ironically, it created a new challenge. I “meditated” over how to tackle our stuff: the instruments, the music stands, the office supplies, chairs, scores and scores of scores. I went into the move skeptical of how it would even work. I had spatial ideas that might pan out, but only if the powers that be agreed.
People. Friends. Readers: We took over 225 instruments, violins, violas, cellos, basses, more than a hundred metal music stands, lumbering bass racks, an entire office, a cabinet full of music–17 years of accumulated stuff–and somehow sorted and re-set up in less than two hours! We moved and shuffled 140 chairs. There were lines of volunteers passing instruments like we were in the midst of a hurricane emergency passing water or sand bags or whatever supplies one might need in a challenging situation. We laughed. We told funny stories of FYO’s past. We laughed some more, and I discovered the art of letting people do what they do best.
Until Friday I believed my greatest weakness was delegating. Friday got me over it. Everyone benefits when others’ strengths are given the freedom to thrive.
I don’t know where the wisdom came from, but I asked two other sweet moms to finish my office. I knew if I did it, I’d take too long mulling over little tiny things, reminiscing and being emotionally torn over every item I might put in a box. They wrapped up what I had not finished to that point, like a gift to me personally.
I keep my thinking filled with modesty, humility. I take nothing for granted. I’m a realist, too. I don’t always believe people will rise up when you put out the call for help, not with so little notice, not with so much uncertainty and on the first day of a break. But Friday I learned that the mission of the Flagler Youth Orchestra is and has always been felt by those we serve, that if I need them, they will come. Our families, our student body, has a life of its own. They are a little fired up, too. That’s bigger than me or any single teacher.
Cultivating the mission. Ensuring the spaces and instruction that give students a lifelong skill and love of music. That’s all I care about.
So with the deepest sense of gratitude and a crazy amount of hope for the future, I share my thanks and appreciation and joy with those who helped Friday, and those we serve. Let the music cheer in April! I can’t wait.
Postscript: The piece above originally appeared in slightly different form on Cheryl Tristam’s Facebook page, to which Janet Valentine, the Flagler Superintendent between 2010 and 2013 before her retirement to North Carolina, and a staunch supporter of the program then and since, wrote in a comment: “Great job 👍 I always felt that the strings program was such an asset for the youth of Flagler County. There was never a doubt in my mind that it was your passion that drove the program to the great success you’ve achieved. I was so impressed with the effect FYO had on its participants that I bought a violin for our grandson Vander that we have been raising. I’m sorry to say that there is no strings program in our local school system but he has been taking lessons for over five years and is a member of the local Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM). It has greatly enriched his life and ours. I’m sure your move will work out in the end and you will continue to provide a great program for all those involved with FYO.”
Cheryl Tristam, a Palm Coast resident since 2001, has been the executive director of the Flagler Youth Orchestra, a special project of the Flagler County school district, since its inception by then-Superintendent Bill Delbrugge in 2005. Reach her by email here. Disclosure: Tristam is married to FlaglerLive’s editor.