Friday, September 16, 2005


(Run originally 3/21/04 in our old site)

Tom Pry

In having a pleasant conversation with Susie Hoffman Boyett the other day, she made a passing remark that set my pea-brain to thinking (no small feat, these days). Her remark was to the effect that a preponderance of this site’s fans were “band kids.” Implicit in that statement was a question: why?

It’s a fair question, and not answered simply by saying that Dan E., Ernie, and I “just happened” to be in the SHS Band. The more I think about it, it seems to be as much about what we were and what we became than just coincidence.

If that convoluted sentence hasn’t chased you off then, please, continue on.

As education money has gotten tighter over the past few decades, there are those (mainly, I suspect, Assistant Superintendents who are wondering from whence their next raise is going to come) who have screamed that band/chorus is one of those “frills” that should be gotten rid of so that what money there is can be concentrated on the “core curriculum:” readin’, ritin’, and ‘rithmetic (and their salaries, of course).

Studies over the past ten years or so, however, have discovered that kids who are involved in music are better disciplined students, both socially and in terms of their studies. This is NOT hot news. As recently as my tenure at ASTC (now UCA) back in the latter fifties, anyone wanting an elementary education major had, as part of the requirements for the degree, to demonstrate that they knew how to play a piano well enough to sight-read a hymnal. No kidding, a hymnal.

I was a late-comer to outside music instruction: I was 11 when I started accordion lessons in Chicago. Yet, when I did, it was assumed (correctly) that I already knew how to read music, because it was a core subject for grammar school students. A circulating teacher would come in every couple of weeks, and she taught us what the treble and bass clefs were, and what the lines and spaces on the staff stood for (Every Good Boy Does Fine and FACE, respectively). We learned about time signatures. We even learned a little solfeggio, simplified.

We knew about sharps, and we knew about flats. It was part of our Basic Education, for pete’s sake!

(Random memory that just popped up: aforesaid music teacher had a neat gadget. It was a piece of wood with five wire holders in it that held chalk. With that doo-dad, she could draw a staff on the blackboard in nothing flat. I thought it was neat).

All my accordion teacher (a guy by the name of Hugo Dell, a name that reappeared when Echo Dell came up for discussion) had to do was point out to me where middle C was, and that the black keys were sharps and flats, and we could get around to technique.

We had this basic knowledge in public school by the sixth grade. When we “graduated” from the 8th grade, our class songs were in four-part harmony, and not done too damn badly, either.

I will assume, for the sake of argument, that the pattern here in Searcy was roughly the same. If not, it became so quickly when you went into Beginner’s Band. If the pattern was NOT the same, then here is where the dichotomy between the “band kids” and Everyone Else started.

There are going to be a largish number of you to whom most of the musical terms I’ve used in the past several paragraphs might as well have been Greek. That’s the point: we were learning a second language, although we never thought of it in those terms. Right there gave us a common ground for our relationship. We could hear Bill Laas or Al English talk about glissandos without our eyes crossing in confusion: you couldn’t. You don’t learn a second language by being stupid, giving us another piece of common ground.

Besides, kids LOVE being the exclusive holders of esoteric information not held by all their peers.

Moving on …

Unless you’re into acid rock, you can’t imagine the cacophony that would result from 100 kids and their musical instruments, each playing from their own music, in their own key, at their personal-best tempo. So, as the phrase goes, we learned to play well with other kids, all of us united in plowing through some piece of music we otherwise couldn’t care less about. (The first piece of concert music I remember being thrown in front of us was The Eroica Symphony. Left to myself, I’d never have touched it, which would’ve been my loss, not Beethoven’s).

No one’s suggested getting rid of football, soccer, or basketball: why get rid of band and chorus? They all teach the same thing: Teamwork, without which we wouldn’t have this country of ours.

We also had the opportunity to explore, an opportunity denied to most of our peers. A sports team went to a game, suited up, played, and came home. Period. We’d go the games, play, and come home. BUT .. we were also off to festivals, to concerts, to parades, to competitions, almost all of them with the opportunity to explore our surroundings and, frequently, to make new friends.

For instance, Ernie knows a guy up in Jonesboro named Tom Trevathan. Tommy and I were buddies in high school. More often than not, it seems, we’d end up at the same event at the same time, and we gravitated to each other. One night in Hot Springs (state band festival), we were cruising the main drag on foot, rather late in the evening, and we both got hungry at about the same time, for about the same thing: a hamburger made to our liking.

Nothing would do but that we went into a hamburger shop and started describing to the cook/counterman what we wanted: a half pound of meat, grilled onions, raw onion … at this point, the guy said, “Look, kids, if that’s what you want, YOU cook it!”

So we did.

We marched behind the counter, put on aprons, and proceeded to cook our Ideal Hamburgers while the counterman and the few other customers watched us, bemused.

They were delicious, and the counterman didn’t charge us near enough for what we consumed, but I suppose there was an entertainment discount in there somewhere.

The point of recounting this tale was that the memory has stuck. Tommy and I were never in contact again after we graduated but, a couple of years ago, I did a Yahoo!™ people search for him and found his e-mail address. When I first e-mailed him, he couldn’t quite place me .. but when I mentioned the great Hamburger Cook-out, he had me nailed immediately.

It was a memory we shared, exclusive to us (I mean, can you see doing that today at a McDonald’s?).

Now, Tommy’s up in Jonesboro and so’s Ernie … and they know each other, and they both know me: instant friendship, instant common ground.

Thanks to our Band Days.

In social categories, we ranged all over the map: well-heeled financially, dirt poor, city kids and (censored)-kickers, good students and average students, who grew up to be teachers, shoe salesmen, TV personalities, dentists, geologists, secretaries – and all with a wealth of shared, common experiences.

If that ain’t Education, I don’t know what is.

I apologize for rambling to what is probably no good end here, but I have to admit that us band kids are kind of a sub-group within the SearcyYesteryear club. It’s not intentional, but you don’t spend hours and hours and hours together without forming some kind of a bond.

Nice to know it endured.

The next time the purists suggest dropping dramatics and music, suggest to them that group activities toward a common goal are just as important as are the “Three R’s,” and of just as much use.

Now, here’s your soap box back. Thanks for listening.


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6:13 AM  

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