Pat Ellison was my high school band director. She was known far and wide for her standard of conduct and musicianship. She instilled in all of her students the belief that we competed against no one but ourselves. Comparison was truly the thief of joy, and good music was a privilege to be a part of. She demanded we be fully tuned in and aware. She accepted nothing less than the best we had to give and made sure we knew that if we didn’t give it, we were only letting ourselves down.
From time to time, she would randomly choose someone to address throughout a band class. At random she just picked a student and would ask them “What do you think?” or just simply use their name frequently throughout that class period. One day in the middle of symphonic band practice, she picked me.
I had never once spoken to Ms. Ellison directly before that. I was a quiet student. Somehow my name appeared on the roster as “Elizabeth”. There she was that day, just calling me Elizabeth, over and over again. There were quiet snickers throughout the band every time she said it. I was Beth and my classmates knew it. The opportunity to tell her that had simply never come up. Lori, my friend, and fellow saxophonist leaned over to me and whispered, “I dare you to tell her your name is Beth.” I replied, “No, I can’t! Not after all this time!” She said, “Yes you can. Come on, I dare you!” Sighing, I raised my hand. Ms. Ellison looked over at me and said, “Yes, Elizabeth, what is it?” Laughter all around. “Well, I actually go by Beth.” She looked nonplussed for a moment, and said “Excuse me?” Tentatively I said, “Beth. My name is Beth.” She said, “Oh, okay. Beth.” Laughter sprinkled through the band again. She picked up her baton to conduct us, put her hands in the air, and we all raised our instruments to play in unison. Suddenly she put the baton down and put her hands on her hips. “I just can’t believe after all this time your name is Beth and we’ve been calling you Elizabeth.” Full on laughter echoed through the room. She called Mr. Robinson out of the office to tell him. He too was confused. My correction had thrown her for a full loop. We never got back on track that class period.
After 7th period I went to the band room to get my horn on the way home and from across the room I heard a voice yell out, “Bye BETH!” It was Ms. Ellison. Laughing I said, “Bye!” Every day from that point on whenever I entered or left, if she was there, she would make a point to address me using “Beth” in some way or another. A few days later I walked in, and Ms. Ellison was standing there with Mr. Robinson and the other band directors. Spaced a couple feet apart, they held at each end and in the middle a printed banner. The kind that was on the sheets of paper, old school style, connected with the perforated holes along the sides. In large print it said, “BETH”. I am quite sure I will never forget the sight of them lined up holding that banner, expectant grins on their faces. It was possibly the funniest thing to happen to me in high school and remained an ongoing joke.
My senior year at Band Banquet, Ms. Ellison spoke about every single one of the seniors. When it was my turn I stood beside her. She put her arm around me and began, “We were sitting in the middle of band one day . . .” and we all started laughing immediately. She told the story with gusto. “If she had called me on the phone before that day, I wouldn’t have even known who she was, I’d never heard her voice!” she said.
To this day, I remain grateful that I had the opportunity to be her student. She helped me both in and out of the classroom always being clued in if I had something going on outside school that was affecting me. That kind of teacher is a gift. I know she was a gift to many students. Her legacy lives in the Springdale Band Program, and in the hearts of all who knew her. And if you were one of her students, you’re probably out there reminding yourself at every difficult turn in life that Attitude is Everything, and you’re leaving places better than you found them, and you’re addressing everyone you meet as Sir or Ma’am, whether they want to be addressed that way or not.