“My mother forced me into band. When I was a little boy I played football, and I suffered an injury prior to going into middle school. She wasn’t too fond of me continuing to play football. But she told me I had to be in an extracurricular activity. She chose band because she tried it when she was in school. And I was already a little musically inclined. I’d been in church choir and had already been playing certain instruments, like guitar and piano. So, I got in the band and was put on the clarinet, of all instruments. I’m 6’4. I’m pretty big. I look like a football player. But I just fell in love with the instrument. It really became a coping mechanism for me, too.

My mother suffers from a mental illness: bipolar schizophrenia. She relapsed, and I had to live with my uncle for the latter part of my school career. But during those times that I’d be down because she was down, I could pick up the instrument and cheer us both up. Music was a release for me. That’s why I’m so passionate about music and why I want to reach people through it. I want to get my doctorate, and I want my dissertation to be based on how music affects mental health.

I haven’t heard from my mother in years. She didn’t see me graduate high school, and she doesn’t know that I’m about to graduate college. But one of the last things that she did for me was force me into band, and I’m forever grateful to her for that. So, instead of dwelling on the negative aspects, I just always try to remain positive and think about how my passion came from the fact that she forced me to do something when I was 10 years old. So, the least I can do is follow through with my passion. If she ever happens to see this, I want to tell her, ‘Thank you.'”

⁃ Jalen, senior music education major from Memphis, Tenn.