Filled with Wunder

It’s January, and I’ve put something off for far too long.

The winter held off, but now the snow returned and it is once again bitter cold. throughout all my responsibilities I have neglected a promise I had made to myself. Well, at least part of it.

It’s been two years. One year was the cut off point, but I put it off then too. Another year passes, and I still don’t really want to talk about it, but this is a story that I care about, so here I go.

It’s January, and I’ve put something off for far too long.

When I was a boy, I learned to play the alto saxophone. I didn’t like it.

I felt thrown into our ‘advanced’ band in our small Homeschool group. There were two other alto saxophones, both girls, both younger than I, and both much better at playing the alto than I. A few of my brothers were there (trumpet, trombone, and drum, respectively) and they seemed to get along just fine in the band. I didn’t feel like I fit in, but I stayed for a few reasons.

Part of it was that my mother wouldn’t let me not practice and participate, so there was that. But I also stayed for another reason. The band director.

Ronald Wunder.

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Where do I start? He was everyone’s friend. Although seventy years old, he still managed to be the coolest person ever to a bunch of high-schoolers. His last name alone (Wunder, pronounced like ‘wonder’) was enough to get our attention.

He was everyone’s grandpa, constantly teasing us about our mistakes, quirks, and inside jokes. He wasn’t very strict, but you worked hard for him anyway because you didn’t want to let him down. Even if you did let him down, he would give you a smile and tell you what you can do better for next time.

Switching to the tenor saxophone was the best decision I’ve ever made. One of the girls had played it the previous year, and didn’t like it. So I volunteered. I was still pretty crummy at it, but the sound was deeper and I had less melody (which is much less pressure). I played tenor for the last two years of band, as I remember, and I had a blast.

My brothers graduated, I learned how to drive to practice every Thursday, and band became something I looked forward to in the week.

There was one particular Thursday that scared a lot of people. We showed up for practice, but Mr. Wunder did not.

Everyone panicked. A parent called his wife, who was a home, and said she thought he had left for practice a while ago. People began to rack their brains and frantically try and figure out where he was and if he was in trouble. Perhaps he got in an accident on the way, or maybe his car broke down. The question lingered:

“What are we going to do without Mr. Wunder?”

Well, it turns out that Mr. Wunder drove in early. Not having a cellphone, and thinking it was later than it was, he supposed that we weren’t going to have practice on that particular Thursday and then drove on to get some groceries. He eventually went home (near the end of the practice time) and was greeted by (as I imagine) a very upset wife.

Mr. Wunder called in, told the parents his mistake, and promised to change the clock on his car. They also forced him to promise to get a cellphone.

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Tenor sax golden saxophone macro selective focus

I did my last concert. I gave a hug and a goodbye to my fellow homeschool band members, shook Mr. Wunder’s hand, and was gone to Pennsylvania. I joined Geneva’s marching band, and met my new band director, Don ‘Coach’ Kephart. An amazing man, even though I still missed my old Mr. Wunder. I had planned to come back from college and tell him all about how I still loved the tenor saxophone, and how much better I had gotten in only a short year. I was excited to see him again. But I didn’t.

My senior year he would always joke about all the medicine he had to take. All the pills he had to swallow every morning before practice. At the end of my Freshmen semester of college, he wasn’t doing well at all. Practices were canceled, and again, everyone was worried.

Mr. Wunder died, December 27th, 2014. I returned from college just in time to go to his funeral.

I never thought I would wish for there to be clarinets in heaven, but if there are, then I hope there is also a saxophone somewhere up too for when I can play along with him to show just how much I’ve learned.

So I still play in the band. I think of him when I march. I remember his iconic line referring to a C sharp being the hardest note to play on a saxophone (it requires exactly no keys to press). And I remember how his smile never faded.

So I play, and I smile, in memory of him. Why? Because, in my humble opinion, the world is simply full of wunder; it only takes a careful, open eye to see it.

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In memory of

Ronald Wunder

15 Dec 1939 – Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA | 27 Dec 2014 – Columbus, Bartholomew, Indiana, USA | Seymour, Indiana, USA
May we always be filled with wonder, holding a smile on our face till the end, just as my first and foremost band director, Mr. Wunder.
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5 Comments

  1. This was Beautiful! This was my DaD! Always with a smile and a Big Heart and Love for Music! I hope his inspiration and Love in Christ and Music follow into many Hearts like yours!. Thank you ! God Bless!

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    Reply

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