Toot Toot!

When I was in 7th grade, I moved up to the junior high school (Worley Junior High School in Westwego, LA). In 6th grade, I had two teachers that taught us all the subject. Moving to 7th grade where we had seven different teachers took some getting used to. In elementary school, I loved P.E. class. Ms. Young was our P.E. teacher and she was my favorite teacher. She is one of the main reasons I am a teacher today. She told me I could do whatever I put my mind to and she is the first person that told me I should be a teacher. She often would let me come and teach the younger kids during their P.E. period. 

At Worley, we had to take P.E. as one of our classes or we could be in the band. And you guessed it, I wanted to be in the band more than anything but my mom said I couldn’t because I already played piano. I was already taking lessons in piano and paying money for another instrument wasn’t something my mom wanted to do. I understand that completely. But P.E. in 7th grade was much different than Ms. Young’s P.E. class. There was a locker room and we had to change in front of our peers and that is something that terrified me. There was one other boy who I was friends with in my P.E. class and I truly think he was equally scared of the locker room. We always got our lockers next to each other and we would talk to each other and try to ignore everyone else as we changed.

One day as I was leaving the gym, I passed the band hall and the band teacher was outside. As I passed by I told her I wanted to be in the band so bad but my mom said I couldn’t. She asked me why and I told her it was because I already played piano. She told me that I could play piano and the band and sent me to the office to change my schedule. Not only did I get to join the band, but I also didn’t have to go to gym class ever again! I marched to the office and asked if my schedule could be changed and they changed me from P.E. to band! I didn’t even ask my mom if it was ok because I would be playing the piano! Since I was playing the piano in the band, it didn’t matter what period I was in, and I ended up in the 8th-grade band. This is where I met one of my best friends from junior high, Shantelle.

Quickly, the joys of being in the band faded. I didn’t realize when I signed up that what I would be doing was sitting in a small room self-teaching myself piano. The teacher told me to bring my lesson books and use the time for practice for my lessons. So each day, I would sit at a keyboard for an hour and just play out of my Bastien piano books. It was SOOOOOOOO boring! At the end of class, she would come in and ask me what I learned and every once in a while she would ask me to play something for her.

Throughout the next months, I had rare opportunities where I got to speak to the teacher, and as the weeks went by I got more and more jealous of all of the kids playing instruments while I sat in a small room isolated. It was sometime in November when she came in and told me that someone had dropped out of band and she had an extra clarinet—she asked me if I wanted to bring it home over the weekend and see if I could learn some notes. Well, the rest is history. I walked into the house and put that clarinet together, opened the Essential Elements book, and started blowing! I spent the whole weekend learning how to play.

I returned to school on Monday ready to play. But, don’t forget, I was in the 8th-grade band! I was able to keep up though! My instructor told me I was a natural and let me know there was an honor band try-out in a few weeks. She stayed with me after school several times helping me with the tryout music and I made first chair!

Here I am, about to be 37 on March 14th, and I am a professional musician. I really owe a lot of that to this moment. The clarinet has brought me so much joy for so many years. Without this teacher finding a way for me to get an instrument in my hands, I would have never had the chance to learn. Thank you so much for believing in me. Thank you for being a great teacher and pushing me to be a better musician. I appreciate it so much!

Westley Hodges (they/them)
© 2020, Westley Hodges (

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2 responses to “Toot Toot!”

  1. Westley,
    This is an amazing story. Even the most subtle nudges from those just simply “doing their jobs” can greatly alter the paths of our lives. Your pivotal moment is a great example of how powerful this butterfly effect can be. Over and over again, you have humbly demonstrated how these life-changing moments can be paid forward to those in your own path. Thanks for sharing, and keep being amazing.


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