INSIDE THE pages of her favorite books, Sierra Arguello found a place of belonging but still longed for something that she couldn’t quite identify. In the early days of fifth grade, Arguello’s friends at Fayetteville Middle School were joining the concert band. It looked fun. She signed up, knowing nothing about band or music, and on her first day she awkwardly tried out each instrument, finally choosing the clarinet. It seemed she was only opening a band room door, but it was so much more – she was opening the door to a brighter future.
A sense of belonging was the first thing Arguello found as she learned bit by bit how to play her instrument. And bit by bit, she found more than music; she found value and purpose in her life. Her skills increased with grit and determination, and bonds with new friends supported the journey into high school.
In the late July heat, standing before her is her last year of high school and her people. She doesn’t want to miss a minute of it. She takes a deep breath, raises her baton, and signals the beginning of the end of her high school career. Long days of marching and rehearsing prepare Arguello and her bandmates for Friday night games and for their futures.
Arguello said, “Every time I’ve walked onto the field, it’s amazing. It’s scary. Don’t getme wrong; it’s really scary. It feels like you’re going to fall off a cliff, and you’re doomed to death, but it’s worth it in my eyes.”
And through her eyes, glistening off brass, percussion, and woodwind sections, we see sparkle, spunk, and grit. We see a commitment to walking beside her bandmates. Lifetime friendships and heartfelt leadership gave her a mirror that reflected her true value.
Her former band director, Don Adams, was one of her guiding lights. “Mr. Adams definitely helped a lot in my path. He was always there for us and taught us so many different things about life – things we wouldn’t have been able to figure out on our own. He made us see our worth. And Mr. Adams taught us so much more than playing some notes on an instrument. He helped me understand my worth and everybody else’s around me,” she said.
Peers don’t always understand the school band and its members. Like Arguello, until experiencing it, until you see it from the inside out, it’s just something you don’t yet know.
Arguello said, “I think a lot of people say mean things about other people, because we always judge the unknown. We’re always a little afraid of something we don’t quite understand. And sometimes that pushes people to be angry or lash out.
I wish people could just understand what band is, step into our shoes, and see the world from our perspective. I think a lot of people would change how they view band.”
As she began to grasp her self-worth, a determination for success was fueled by an unexpected teacher.
Arguello said, “Every task comes with a little difficulty, and you can only work through it. You’re determined to see it out to the end. Band is a very stressful thing to do when it comes to work and practice. And if you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t get anywhere in life. I think all the greatest inventions and victories in life came with failing. Getting something right the first time makes it easy, and it makes it sometimes less valuable. But trying and failing, trial and error, giving and losing all teach you endurance, to be a better person, and to give your all. Failing at something pushes you to try it again. Try it again over and over until you get it right and until you can’t get it wrong.”
Arguello takes all these things into her final high school year, recognizing it’s her season as a teacher and mentor.
“A lot of people tell me they look up to me, and it puts a little pressure on me [and] makes me want to do better. And sometimes I have doubts, thinking, ‘Are you sure you know what you’re up against?’
I’m not a perfect person. I will make mistakes this year in marching band; I will make a lot of mistakes. But that just makes me more human and shows people you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to try your best,” she said. “I like to say that when I put on my uniform, it honestly feels like I’m putting on a superhero costume. Band teaches you to be proud of your achievements and to know you have the strength to do all these different things. When I rush onto the field I keep my head high.”
And her band experiences will remind her that she has the strength to do more different things as she chooses a college and career. It has prepared her to grow as she takes her chair in a collegiate band. Books and words still captivate her, and her leadership skills may take her to the head of the class as a teacher of others while she builds her writing resume.
“Band has had a huge impact on my life. Not everything was perfect, and I didn’t know who I was. But [being in the] band taught me who I was and led me on a greater path. I’ve met some of my life’s most influential and important people. But now I’m very confident, and [being a member of the] band has taught me that life is worth living no matter how difficult it gets,” Arguello said. GN