High School Bands and Marching Bands, Notes & Essays by David Rodeback, Writing, Language & Books

Writing What I Believe, Writing What I Love (Part 2)

American Fork High School Marching Band

This post continues my thoughts on writing what I believe and writing what I love. In the first part I explained that it includes reading what I love, and that includes long novels. This is partly an artist’s manifesto – that term is still too grand – and partly a look behind the curtain or under the hood. It is the back story of stories I have written, am writing, and live.

This is the second of three parts.

What I Believe

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that what I want to write is born of and sustained by what I believe, not just what I love. Among the many things I believe, here are the ones I most want to write about.

I believe there is good in virtually everyone. Likewise, there is a measure of evil in virtually everyone. “God and the devil are fighting,” said Dmitri Karamazov, “and the battlefield is the [human heart].”

I believe that good can and often does triumph in an individual heart and in the world at large, and it will continue to do so in the future, more often than not.

Based on long and varied experience with people I didn’t think were interesting at first, I believe there is something interesting in everyone – something worthy of our notice and reflection, and often enough our admiration.

I believe that, if we choose and learn to have eyes to see it, we can find beauty in the ordinary people, things, and circumstances around us. And all else being equal, real is more beautiful than unreal.

We humans, notably including myself, are prone to religious and secular Pharisaism. We collect, expand, and celebrate lists of rules, attributes, and standards which we then use to judge other people, both living and long dead. We do this in part to demonstrate to them, if they’re alive, and in any case to ourselves, that we are better people than they are, by whatever standard we embrace. You might say we place our faith in sets of rules to save us – in the sense of religious salvation, often enough, but also socially, economically, educationally, medically, politically, even artistically.

I am not a moral relativist. I believe absolute good and absolute truth exist. I believe in and worship God as their ultimate Source. But I also believe we make it far too difficult for good people to be good, by whatever definition. Even when we’re too kind or too self-absorbed to do this to others, we often do it to ourselves, judging ourselves too harshly, seeing too little of the good that is in us, and scrubbing much of the hope and joy from our own lives.

Some of these beliefs appear in my novel-in-progress even before it begins. Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro provides the first of two epigraphs: “Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.” The other comes from American writer William George Jordan: “We do too much watching of our neighbor’s garden, too little weeding in our own” (The Kingship of Self-Control, 1898).

I have a free book for the first person who can provide an authoritative source for the Pissarro quotation, which is commonly attributed to him without citation.

You may wonder why these specific things have bubbled to the surface in the gumbo pot of my beliefs, in ways which entice me as a writer. I have wondered this too.

Some of it is no mystery. For example, in my younger years I was prone to Pharisaism in everything from religion to English grammar. That sad tendency has mostly yielded to many years of countless minutes strung together, which I have spent in the company of, and in many cases trying to work with or to serve, many different people who simply did not measure up, according to the Pharisaic checklist of the moment. At length I discovered them to be good, even godly, nonetheless.

You might say I have learned to admire many people I first thought should admire me – and yes, I see the pathetic arrogance in that starting point. On one of this evolution’s most trivial planes, though I still savor English grammar as a great power to be harnessed and deployed, I find I no longer count your grammatical errors or mine against the content of our respective characters, the validity of our thoughts and insights, or the moral goodness or objective worth of our souls.

More to today’s point, I have watched my own inclinations as a writer evolve, and thereby hangs a tale.


About a decade ago, I wrote and assistant-produced a feature-length documentary film about a fine high school marching band in my community, Champions of the West. I had never before written for the big screen.

During that seven-month volunteer adventure, among those stunning youth and their families and teachers – ordinary people in most senses – I came to a decision which still seems consequential. I think I have always wanted to write about good people struggling to do good things – but now I want to do it on an ordinary (not galactic or even geopolitical) scale, and at least for a while I want most of my protagonists to be youth.

This may sound shallow or Pollyannish. But lately I am drawn more to questions of how we live together in families, neighborhoods, and communities – including religious communities – and less to similar queries on a larger scale. We navigate these things throughout our lives, but with special intensity during adolescence, so perhaps it makes sense to write of youth.

This is a sea change for me in at least two dimensions. My first foray into filmmaking may seem like too little cause for such an effect. In retrospect I see that it solidified the effects of longer associations with youth and others in my ecclesiastical roles, my civic activities, my neighborhood, and my own family. But at least one effect came directly from the time I spent making that film: hope.

Hope is not a universal human response to conditions in the modern world. It certainly has not always been mine. At times I have struggled to find hope enough to sustain my own small efforts to do good and necessary things in my tiny fraction of the world. But even my innate pessimism and skepticism were overwhelmed by what I saw while making a film about the members of a high school marching band.

My time with them gave me abundant, persistent hope. I couldn’t escape the conclusion that there is hope for the future, for the world, because there are more than a few such young people in it.

Early in the film’s narrative come these lines. I labored over them at length, and I wrote them quite sincerely.

“Look behind the scenes, and you will see more. You will see hundreds of youth learn by experience to pay the price of excellence – and the higher price of greatness. You will see young men and women learn teamwork at an advanced level, helping each other succeed, and polishing hundreds of individual performances which finally merge precisely into a stunning and powerful spectacle.

“Look carefully, and you will also see loyalty, courage, love, sacrifice, and a humane beauty which transcends the music and the show.” (Champions of the West)

I didn’t mention hope in the script, but I was thinking about it, willing the audience to see that those other things together suggest hope.

Read the conclusion here.

Photo by David Rodeback

From the Author

David Rodeback

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