Staff Reflections: The Gift of Experience

Staff Reflections: The Gift of Experience

From Greg Twombley, Director of Ministries & Praise Team Leader …

I want to talk about experiences that form us. I was born at a very early age in Brookings, South Dakota to a stay-at-home Mom and a Dad who once was a dairy researcher at South Dakota State University (SDSU), who then became a Vocational Agriculture (Voc. Ag.) teacher, a Future Farmers of America (FFA) leader, a builder of houses and hog sheds, a fixer of roofs (pronounced ruufs), and lots of other things. My Dad began teaching Voc. Ag. and leading FFA in a town called New Effington, SD. We referred to our little town, population 256, as Resume Speed, SD. We joked that all the city limits signs were on the same post. This area is in the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation, a triangular-shaped stretch of land in extreme northeastern SD.

It came time for the music teacher to go the 5th and 6th grade classes to recruit for the band and choir, as he was the sole music teacher in the school for grades K-12. In the 5th grade I refused to raise my hand when we were asked who wanted to participate. In the 6th grade, the music teacher, who hunted and fished with my Dad, told me to come see him after school that day, even though I had not raised my hand.

I had no idea what was in the rectangular case that Mr. Yates pointed to in his office, though knew I had no interest in playing whatever it was. Next the music teacher handed me a saxophone method book and sent me on my way, as he did not possibly have time for private lessons with his work load. So, I trudged home with the tenor saxophone, almost as big as I was at the time. I took out the method book, looked at the photos to see where to place my fingers on the instrument, and I gave it a go to see what kind of sound it might produce.

Soon Dad bought LP records of Boots Randolph, the country saxophonist, which would serve as lessons until I went to college. On weekends, I would take my sax to my grandparents’ farm near Artesian, SD, and play for the cattle and pigs and the chickens. Later I had a new music teacher who played and sang with his own group for dances. I was thrilled to hear him perform, and asked him to teach a song to me. He showed me Erroll Garner’s classic song, Misty. Soon I was playing with country bands, dance bands and polka bands.

Then it came time for college, and I chose to go to SDSU and received a scholarship to be the drum major of the Pride of the Dakotas Marching Band. I was finally going to really study music and have lessons! In my first lesson, it was soon discovered that I was primarily an “ear” player and not a music reader. Well this did not go over well with my professor. He insisted I would learn to read music, and in the meantime, switched me to the bassoon, where I learned my love for Classical music.

Upon completing my music degree at SDSU, I took a position as a band teacher in Iowa and set my sights on graduate school. I auditioned at several schools, with my heart set on The Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. The day the letter came from Eastman admissions, my hands shook as I opened it to discover I was one of two students selected for the specific graduate program of study. Thanks to learning to read music, to learning several instruments, to playing by ear, to figuring out songs from records, I found I had the experience to make it into music school. Five years later I would audition for the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” against a sturdy lineup of competition from around the country and shortly thereafter entered the band.

All of the experiences I had: of playing for cattle, watching much older players, working for farmers on weekends and in the summer, looking after my younger brothers, learning from my Dad who did so many different things in his life and who taught me that no experience is wasted, mucking animal stalls, tearing down old farm buildings, baling hay, pulling weeds, practicing music by ear, serving as drum major in high school and for a 350 member college marching band, seeing SD winter storms with -81 F. wind chill, and having the privilege to serve in the US Army Band for dignitaries, presidents, members of congress, senior military leaders, serving as a music clinician in schools, serving as a leader, and so important, being a Dad, all became part of me. I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for anything. Now I have the privilege of serving on a church staff that serves an amazing house and community of faith, and I rely on all these experiences as I continue to learn thanks to the good folks of my church home.

It has been said that we should learn all we can from the mistakes of others, since there isn’t enough time in this life to make all the mistakes ourselves. That said, we should not be afraid to learn the wisdom of our own experiences, however they go. Mark Twain said it this way: “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it, and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again, and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”