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Band director pens inspirational messages

February 26, 2009|By JANET HEIM

SMITHSBURG -- It began as a tool to help a student shift negative attitudes.

Now, Gary Rupert's daily message, called Today's Task, reaches a network of people via e-mail in at least 14 states.

A publisher in Indiana has plans to print a manuscript of a collection of Rupert's motivational writings, titled "Today's Task - A Thought-Provoking Look at Lessons I Learned as a Teacher."

While Rupert, director of bands at Smithsburg High School and director of jazz bands at Hagerstown Community College, finds it rewarding to know so many are interested in his daily message, he also is surprised.

"It happened purely by accident," Rupert said. "I think it's interesting so many people are reading it. I'm just an ordinary guy doing an ordinary job."

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More than three years ago, Rupert was headed to the practice field with students in his marching band. One of the girls was complaining about everything.

After practice, Rupert asked the student to write down everything she was considering complaining about, then bring the list to him. She was surprised by the negativity of her thinking.

Rupert helped her come up with alternatives to her complaints, which he called Today's Task. For two more days, they repeated the process, and the student began sharing Rupert's insight with fellow students.

The student is now at Shepherd University, studying to be a teacher. Rupert, who has two grown sons, said she's now "like the daughter I never had."

Writing Today's Task has become part of Rupert's morning routine as he prepares for the school day. As his students enter the band room, they have the option of grabbing a hard copy of the daily message.

While Rupert writes Today's Task with students in mind, he also has an e-mail list of more than 100 people who receive it.

The initial e-mail list included mostly teachers, but his message is forwarded to people in "all walks of life," he said, including former students who receive the e-mails at college.

He knows the vice president of marketing for a Major League Baseball team receives the e-mails, as does an award-winning teacher in Los Angeles.

"It's become very fascinating to hear from people I've never met," said Rupert, 55, who grew up in Pittsburgh. He has taught at Smithsburg High for seven years.

An educator for 32 years, Rupert reads books by top coaches, business people and religious leaders as a way to stimulate his own thinking. As he reads, he said he looks for ways to apply the knowledge to his life and to motivate his students.

Other inspiration for the daily message might come from his students, parents or something he heard in the news. Rupert doesn't write Today's Task in the summer, but he's heard from some recipients who save their favorite messages and reread them during the summer while he's on hiatus.

The e-mails have evolved into a format that begins with a topic that strikes Rupert, a middle paragraph of how he responded and a tag line at the end. He said they were never intended to state a position of right or wrong but to allow the reader the freedom to determine his or her own response.

Many of the 125 to 150 students he teaches in band/jazz ensemble, music theory and guitar find motivation in the messages, said Michelle Anderson, a senior who has played alto saxophone in the band for four years.

"They're life lessons," Michelle said.

She added that sometimes Today's Task is uncomfortable to read because is hits too close to home. When Rupert writes about a student, he never uses names, but students often recognize themselves in the text, whether or not they are the subject.

"It's about all of us. It puts the onus on our own behavior," Rupert said.

Those wishing to receive Today's Task via e-mail may contact Rupert at rupergar@wcboe.k12.md.us.

Today's Task - February 3, 2009



She can play all the correct notes on her instrument, but one can't help but notice that her performance lacks the energy it requires to bring the music to life. Her explanation is that she is not very passionate about playing and she really doesn't learn anything in band. She is only in band because her Mom wants her to be.

It intrigues me that young people think that passion comes from some external stimuli. It is like they believe you can go to the store and buy a passionate flute, or that I can purchase passionate music. I suggested to her that it is not likely that the passion fairy is going to visit her some night and sprinkle her with dust so that she will become more passionate. Instruments are not passionate ... performers are. Songs are notes on a page and do not become music until performers play them. Passion comes from within and not from something external. People are passionate ... things are not.

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