Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sound Blast from the Past

High school band, 1968
Last night, I attended my oldest granddaughter's instrumental concert.  I missed the first one, so going to this one, themed for the holidays, was one I didn't want to miss.  Because these were middle school band and orchestra students, many of them are just beginning their musical journey.  But I must say I was impressed with their playing--especially the 6th graders, who played after only a few months of instruction.  The teacher/conductor also impressed me.  Sure, there were some missed notes and, as I and my fellow former high school band members can remember, the tempo of each piece being played tends to speed up as the end approaches.  Last night, they handled that very well.

My granddaughter plays the viola.  She wanted to play the cello, but she's on the tiny side, and the girl across the street from me won out on that one.  By the way, the girl across the street is a sweetie and friend with both of my granddaughters.  I remember wanting to play the cello.  For a year or so when I was ten, I took private French lessons with a group of older girls, one a neighbor.  They were in what's now middle school at the time.  I'd learned French in fourth grade, so I at least had a clue.  That and the fact that a family friend had taught me several French phrases and to count from one to ten before I ever started school.  The daughter of the woman who taught those of us in the private group played the cello.  I fell in love with it.  So how did I end up playing flute?  I have no idea, but I did.  (I also missed seeing JFK before he was elected President, all because I had to go to French lessons.  Who knew?)

Watching the middle school students last night and listening to them play brought back memories of being a member of my high school band.  I went to a small school (56 in our graduating class), where the only instrumental was band.  A good thing I didn't take up the cello!  Because our junior high shared the building with the high school, we 7th and 8th graders were integrated into the high school band.  We were pretty good.  But we got better.

Senior year, the second year without our beloved band teacher.
My freshman year in high school, we were introduced to a new music (band and vocal) teacher.  He was young, had a wife that was just as young and fun, and two small children.  We adored them, and especially him, whether band members or vocal music members.  He worked us hard, especially the marching band.  We went from a disordered bunch of kids on the football field at halftime, scrambling to find our places to create a cherry tree (George Washington) and a stovepipe hat (Abraham Lincoln) to a precision, synchronized marching band.  You've probably seen college bands perform during football games
Goofing off after a parade (no, not me)
that do the same on a much bigger scale.  We had no idea how our movements appeared to onlookers as we zigged and zagged across the field, eight steps to each five yards, while playing.  Or marched in a parade, all in same step, while dodging piles of horse...well, you know.  Bill. Rotter knew not only how to teach music, he knew how to make playing it a joy.  He could also play a mean sax and piano.  One of my best memories is of him playing the piano and singing the song, Little Egypt for us.  (Only 'us oldies' remember it. ☺)  He was fun, he was talented, and he was the best.  His second year, we competed in a state marching contest and won a I rating, the highest.  The nearly 6 hour round trip was worth it.  He
Napping-or trying to-on the bus
left us a year later, moving on to direct at a community college in Pratt, KS.  Some of us visited him and his family there one weekend.  One very memorable weekend with good friends, not simply a former teacher.  He's now in Oklahoma, directing a band of his making and bringing enjoyment to many.

Those are the things that went through my mind last night, as I watched the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade bands and orchestras perform.  When Carol of the Bells played, I remembered singing it in vocal music.  It's one of my favorite songs of the Christmas season.  But our favorite in band, not played last night, was Sleigh Ride.  Each time we played it i concert, the audience was on its feet, applauding and cheering when it ended.  I can't hear the song without thinking of Mr. Rotter, standing before us, waving his wand, while we made magic the way he taught us.  We were blessed, and they continue in our memories.
Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. ~ Victor Hugo

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