by Bill Nemoyten
This article appeared in Advance, the magazine of the Association of Concert Bands
It also appears in It All Started with a Trombone ~ The Hornman Memoirs
A few years ago I received an invitation to attend my 50th High School Class reunion. It would involve a trip across the country at substantial expense and would be time consuming at a busy time for me. I thought about it for a while but hadn’t made up my mind. About three weeks before the event, I was contacted by one of the organizers. She urged me to come and then said “I know you were in the school band. You’ll be interested to know that Joe Lanese, your band director is planning on coming.”
That was the clincher. I knew I had to go. It brought back a flood of happy memories, the strongest one being my affection and respect for the person who inspired me to pursue and enjoy music for a lifetime. I went to that reunion and spent several precious moments reliving those happy memories with Joe, in his eighties and still enjoying life with his wife of over sixty years.
Any musician who has continued to play and enjoy his or her band experience into adulthood will remember the school band directors who taught, motivated and inspired them. Each of ours is a unique personal story that began in an elementary, middle or high school in a tiny rural village or in a big city. The teacher might have been fresh out of college or a thirty-year veteran. Surprisingly, the quality of the band that first ignited the flame might have been anywhere from superb to very mediocre.
Exactly what occurs that turns certain students on to a life-long love of the experience of playing in a band is a mystery. Some persons may first be attracted by the fascinating array of beautiful instruments and others by the power of the music itself. Some are seeking a group in which they can feel a special intimate bond with their fellow musicians, but nearly everyone will tell you that the greatest influence came from their school band director.
Stop and think about what it takes to be a successful school band director; a working knowledge of all the instruments, often even including how to make on-the-spot repairs; familiarity with both the standard literature and the latest compositions; skill in directing concert and marching bands, orchestras and jazz ensembles; ability to control large groups of hyper students, all of whom are holding powerful noise makers in their hands; in many schools they must be able to train their students in the intricacies of the marching band (half-time shows or street parades or often both!); be excellent communicators with their students, the school staff, parents and their community; know how to raise money and how to handle it; they must have skill on the computer with graphics, music writing programs, marching band maneuver charting, instrument inventories, music libraries and many other areas.
In addition, many band directors are also fine instrumentalists who somehow also find time to play with or conduct local amateur and professional groups and maintain a schedule of private students. All in all a daunting job description!
Let’s take some time to reflect on how our school band directors influenced our lives and gave us the priceless gift of the love of playing music. If your band director is still around, send a letter or an email or phone him or her and let them know that you are still playing and enjoying making music and thank them for their gift to you.
My band and orchestra director, Joe Lanese, taught at Glenville High School and West Tech High School and other schools in Cleveland in the 40’s and 50’s and later served as Supervisor of Instrumental Music for the Cleveland Public Schools.
As a post script I decided to take my own advice and tried to locate Joe Lanese again. He wasn’t to be found anywhere in the Cleveland area and I expected the worst. Then I called an old colleague who promised to do some digging for info about Joe. The next day I had the news. Joe is now 90, in good health, and has moved with his wife to the warmer climate of Columbia, South Carolina.
I found his phone number on the internet and phoned him. We had a wonderful conversation with reminiscences of old times and caught up on whatever information we had of former classmates. He told me how much he appreciated hearing from me and definitely made my day!