Pastor Jeff and Pastor Hill

Gary Lester

Pastor Jeff had a great sermon the other day. it was about the classic “turn the other cheek” passage from Luke’s gospel, plus forgiveness, and community. Later in the day, I checked the Turner Classic Movie channel and there it was, one of my very favorites, “The Music Man.” That’s the story of fast-talking shyster “Professor” Harold Hill. He’s a traveling salesman who convinces the community they need a “boys’ band” to save the kiddos from the dangers of a pool table recently added to the billiard hall. His modus operandi is to sell the townsfolk musical instruments, uniforms, and lessons for the band, then sneaking off with the cash.

Before I go any farther, I’m not suggesting that Pastor Jeff is trying to put something over on us with his sermons. They are excellent and that Sunday’s was no exception. Odd, then, isn’t it, that I saw a parallel between the sermon and Professor Hill’s scam?

Turning the other cheek really doesn’t sound like a good idea. The simplistic explanation is that Jesus said that if someone slugs you, don’t fight back, let them slug you again. Are any of us really ready to do that? It doesn’t seem to make sense. But what if it really is about giving a person a second chance. Maybe it’s about giving people the benefit of the doubt even if you don’t get a positive first impression. Maybe it’s about showing another side of yourself like being the “bigger person.”

Harold Hill’s plan was to take advantage of the country bumpkins with a well thought out scam. Once he convinced them they needed the band to keep the kids involved in healthy activity, he had it made. He’d “make the sales”, collect the cash and sneak away. Except that he fell in love with Marion the Librarian and didn’t want to leave.

Harold had scammed people all over the place and made it difficult for the legitimate salesmen who came to a town after him. It all comes to a head when another traveling salesman informs the community that they’ve been duped and as soon as Harold collects the cash for the band instruments and uniforms, he’d beat feet out of there.

The townsfolk capture Harold and are about to tar and feather him and run him out of town on a rail, literally. Then an amazing thing happens. Marion convinces the townsfolk that their community was so much better off than before Harold came. It was a happier place. People rallied behind the idea of the band. They put together celebrations. The nasty, contentious, members of the school board became a fantastic barbershop quartet, portrayed, incidentally, by The Buffalo Bills, once the top quartet in the S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A.

In the final scene, “The Band” is led by Prof. Hill and the performance is abysmal because he never really taught them anything. But what did the townsfolk hear when the kids dummied through “Minuet in G”? They heard a spectacular performance of “76 Trombones.” They heard what they wanted to hear and as far as Professor Hill was concerned, all was forgiven.

What do we need to hear in this story?

We don’t know what happened down the road. Maybe the band got better. Maybe Harold began a new, legitimate life with Marion. Maybe the town thrived or maybe it settled back into its old comfortable self. What we do know is that the people turned the other cheek, accepted Professor Hill for who he was, and it worked!

Gary Lester is a lifetime area resident, a former photographer for the Times Observer, former market manager for WhirleyDrinkworks, retired Executive Director of Family Services of Warren County, and current Director of Leadership Warren County. He is a life-long student and commentator on human behavior.

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