Today was the big day for me. But……… it did not go quite the way the dream was suppose to go.
When I was 16 years old, not that long ago, I was just starting my career as a musician with the Band of the South Australian Police Department.
On a cold day, not unlike today in Argentina, I learnt a valuable lesson in the Adelaide Town Hall. The S.A.Police Band is a very fine band. It usually attracts a very good audience at concerts.They have had many a full house in the Festival Theatre and are accustomed to very large audiences
I remember a day when things didn’t go as planned. The band was to play to a large group of pensioner clubs at the Adelaide Town Hall. The pensioners were to be bussed into the city and it was to be a grand occasion.
The band had a beautiful program ready – Big Band, woodwind ensembles, various soloists. A splendid program had been prepared.The stage was full of equipment for the big concert.
The wrong day.
Seven people turned up. They just happened to be in the foyer.The buses would not be arriving that day.We played our concert to the seven people and they were a wonderful audience. I learnt that day that the size of the audience doesn’t matter. The mark of a true professional is to provide entertainment. Our job that day was to play the best we could for those seven people.
As always the S.A. Police Band didn’t disappoint, receiving an enthusiastic standing ovation. A very appreciative audience indeed.
Today, something similar happened. A little group of Mercy students from St Ethnea College went to the barrio school, Comedor Angel. We were prepared with newly acquired Mercy show bags, courtesy of Kathryn Beilby’s Year 3 stationery donation initiative. We had congas and shakers, bubble blowers, colouring-in-books – the whole kitchen sink of kids’ entertainment in a bag and at our disposal.
Two children came to the grand gathering.
Not content, I hammered away on the Conga drums,calling for some attention (typical). Two other children tentatively approached. I played on……….an answer to my jungle drumming came in the form of a little boy across the way, drumming on his upturned rubbish bin.
He soon tired of my sad little act. Well, that was it……….four. An audience of four for us to weave our magic.
The big day had arrived. We had painted their school the weekend before and we were ready to make the notion of school fun.
We had our audience.It was a special audience. It was a special audience for many reasons. They turned up and they were ready for the magic. But it was a special audience to me for another reason .
The very, very shy boy of 13 years who responded to my mad drumming had been standing down the road with his equally shy friend. The boy’s name was Juan.
Juan is a boy I had met here last September.
Juan is a boy who is critically ill.
Juan is a boy abandoned by his mother.
Juan is a boy who was beaten constantly by the male lovers of his wayward mother.
Juan is the boy who was inspired by the SAC touring party last September to draw a picture of his favourite soccer team’s logo and attempt his first written letters.
Juan is the boy that SAC donations are helping to feed. One year of food has been provided for Juan and his brother, as he has been abandoned by his mother, at a time when he is very ill.
Juan should be at home in bed.
Juan was in the audience
I can’t say that my first encounter with Juan was everything I had hoped for. I had been writing to him for about seven months. My emails had at first been rejected by him, but as the St Ethnea girls persisted in reading my first email he responded with “Read it again”.
He recognised me. That little smile in the corner of his mouth betrayed his cool exterior. That firm cool handshake of a young man betrayed his aloof position. Juan took up a seat on the opposite side of the little school enclosure. My feeble attempts to engage Juan were snubbed off politely.
But………….As I taught the St Ethnea students the Conga drums and acted the complete idiot, I could see Juan’s eyes watching all.
I thought I would take it further as this was the boy who had inspired me to try to make a difference.This is the boy whose story had touched me. If not for Juan’s little drawing and first scrawled letters, I really doubt that I would be in South America today.
I walked bravely up to Juan, armed with a colouring-in-book and some pencils and crayons. The book was a Hulk comic action-hero type book. I was throwing everything at Juan. I quietly passed around the books and hastily beckoned Joshua to meet Juan. Joshua caught on and sat right next to him. I was very proud.
Josh and I went about the job of colouring in the Hulk (staying within the lines of course). Juan, hiding his work with the cover of the book, quietly took up a crayon. Contact. We sat and coloured in together. Not speaking, just passing around the different colours.
The guys doing what guys do.
The time came around to leave far too fast. The girls went about collecting the show bag contents. It had been previously agreed that we would take all equipment with us so as to keep it in good order.
I caught a glimmer of concern in Juan’s eye. I asked the Spanish-speaking girl with me to tell Juan that he should keep the book for a week and we’ll see him next week. A little nod………..but, I caught a smile in the eyes. Contact.
Not a big audience. Not like the twenty children we had the week before. But a good audience. Not the standing ovation. But a hint of a smile.
I hope Juan will return. I hope that Juan stays in bed this week colouring that Hulk book.
I hope that the word will get around about the crazy Australian teacher and caring young students from St. Ethnea’s pastoral program, the loco teacher who bangs a conga drum and comes with bubble blowers and face painters.
I hope they will come to school. I hope they will see that school can, and should be fun.
I hope for a lot of things.
But today was a good day. Another good day in Argentina.
te mando un beso,
P.S. I was again proud of my son Joshua. That’s my little boy in the St. Ethnea College class photo, Year 7A class.
How fortunate children are who have mothers and fathers who are proud of them.
Well done Juan.
Coghlan, M 2011, Marble staircase, Photograph, Flickr, accessed 29 June 2013, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikecogh/5499391044/>, Creative Commons license: <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en>.
Mitchell, S 2010, South Australian Police Band, Photograph, Flickr, accessed 29 June 2013, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenliveshere/5173496540/>, Creative Commons license: <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.en>.