When I first started writing Bone Girl, I knew it had been way too long since I’d sat in a beginning band class. But I felt to truly know my character, I needed to do so.
I contacted my children’s band teacher, Travis Harrington. I asked him if I could sit in and listen during his beginning band classes. Much to my delight, he said yes. Travis teaches band at Mirror Lake Middle School in Chugiak, Alaska.
It was intriguing to meet his students and find myself the object of their curiosity. Who is she? they whispered. What is she doing here? My memory is faulty, but I think one young girl even raised her hand and asked Mr. Harrington why exactly was I there.
I jotted down notes on what the kids wore, what they said, how they sat, how they held their instruments. Everything! I hid in the back of the classroom, by the trombone players, because my character, Josey, is a bone-player. Note: that’s the “bone” in the title. It’s nothing to do with human bones, and everything to do with Josey’s instrument.
As I sat and listened, I realized that Mr. Harrington, astute and experienced though he was, couldn’t be in every section at every minute. Who could? I heard kids whispering and giggling. I heard snippets of conversation, and I saw that band class can be about a whole lot more than learning to make music.
My favorite Mr. Harrington quote: “I do NOT want to hear anyone placing Hot Cross Buns. That song is so last week.” My second favorite quote is one he would start and the kids finished. I think it was meant to keep them on task. He’d say, “Meanwhile…” and point at a sign on his wall, and they would finish, “…back at the ranch.”
This was in the fall of 2011. Those students are now finishing up eighth grade at Mirror Lake Middle School. Bone Girl will be published in March, and as I revise and polish, I think of those kids and I relish the privilege of watching them learn to be musicians. Thank you.
Below is a snippet of Bone Girl with all credit due to Mr. Harrington and his students:
“Okay. We’ll stop there today,” Mrs. Casey said. She struggled to be heard over the noise of class ending. Mouthpieces plucked out. Horns dismantled. Brass banged against music stands. Cases slammed shut.
“Remember, the only way to get better is to practice, so if you’re not practicing, you’re not going to get any better,” she told them.
“And one more thing, music should be performed, so don’t hide yourself away in your bedroom. Practice in front of your family so that when it’s concert time, you won’t be scared to play for an audience.”
She turned and saw Tommy Tipps holding his saxophone.
“The mouthpiece is stuck again,” he said, handing her the instrument.
She took it from him.
“Third time this week, Tommy. Are you sure you don’t want to play the cymbals?”
Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, the glamorous life of an indie author, or how exactly do I format this book?
I can remember listening to your Mom practice her piano when I was little. You made me think of this. I sure do miss her. And “No” you didn’t make me sad.