Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Life and Times of Larry and Ernest - 4


(Run originally 5/3/04 on our old site)

Ernie Simpson


Tough Times in College

Larry and Sue were married, and had a little apartment over on Aggie Road. It was tiny and they struggled, as well we all did, but Larry was determined, and he had a great partner in Sue. Their first-born was Steven Lynn.

Larry was true as an arrow, and worked dance jobs to keep his family fed. The old C&R club was one of those at Trumann. Larry worked the job, got off at 2:00 a.m. and got up and went to class. There was a real dive at Lepanto where we played a couple of jobs together, but mostly his jobs were in the Trumann area.

There were so many of us struggling during that time, we did not pay any attention to each other much, it was all we could do to keep our head above water, and Larry worked, went to class, and took care of his family. He worked hard and got through.

He told me once about the owner of the club coming up to the band after a job one night, and told the group that one of his friends had a little girl who was ill, and the family didn’t have any money, and would the band donate their pay that night to help this poor, unfortunate family. Larry said, NO. They all looked at him like he was a dog, but he didn’t care, his family came first, and that’s why he was working in the first place. I admired him for sticking to his guns.



My dad and mom were afraid of John Kennedy’s election. They were afraid of the Catholic influence in the White House. As it turned out, it did not affect any of the Southern Baptists in the way they might have thought. He was a decent president, and one of the best, as it later turned out, from his ability to lead the nation, and really, I figured, that’s what it’s all about.

1960 was an election year and, in November of that year, we had just finished a great marching season at Arkansas State; Larry was now the drum major and doing a great job. Mr. Minx came in one afternoon to rehearsal and announced that the band had received an official invitation to represent Arkansas in the Inaugural Parade for the newly elected president, John F. Kennedy. The entire band was jubilant.

We had fundraisers, called in favors, and hit on every business in Jonesboro and Arkansas to get enough money for the trip. So, on a cold January 20, 1961, the A-state band marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to honor the new president, John. Kennedy.

We started a few days before from Memphis, with a great train ride to Washington, D.C., thorough the mountains of Tennessee and West Virginia, with snow in the mountains creating a postcard effect from the last car of the train as it wound through the curves of the mountains.

We stopped briefly to hook onto other cars, the Murphreesboro, Tennessee, High School Band was going to D.C., too, and the brief stop caused some little panic among some of us.

Larry and Tom Robertson decided while the train was stopped, to take a moment and look around an old train station nearby. After the connection to the other cars was made, our train started slowly once again on the journey. Mr. Minx happened to be walking the aisle of the car I was on. He spotted something out the window, and I was wondering what he saw, and looked outside the same time he did. As we looked out the window of the car, we saw running alongside the train, trying to catch up, Larry and Tom, both with panic-stricken looks on their faces. Mr. Minx was able to find a train official and stopped the train.

When they got on the train, panting heavily, and wide eyed, Mr. Minx sounded for the world like a mad Irishman when he shouted at them, “What the hell do ya think yer doin’!” As Larry was the drum major of the band, it would not have been well to leave him in the mountains to catch the next train. That was a good lesson for the both of them, and the last incident of that sort on the trip.

It was a big deal for us who marched: we had spent weeks raising money for the trip, and the city of Jonesboro, the college and all in the state who had anything to do with us chipped in. When we finally arrived, we settled in, and made tours the day before of the parade of the Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and even managed to squeeze in enough time for a movie the night before the parade. “Where the Boys Are,” was playing, with Connie Frances, George Hamilton, and Paula Prentiss.

Time for the parade, and historic Pennsylvania Avenue waited. The night before had been bitterly cold, which included heavy snow. We listened to a short lecture from some security agency about parade protocol in front of the President, “Don’t look at him, don’t point your horn or wave at him, etc.’ The streets were clear, but the horns were freezing in the cold air. Someone came up with the bright idea to mix glycerin and alcohol to put on the valves of our horns, and Mr. Minx sent someone to a drugstore to make a purchase. We tried the mixture, and it worked. A sort of anti-freeze for the instruments. I was glad to have it because, halfway through the first strain of the march, the valves on the trumpet ceased to work without the magic potion. We noticed in historic documents that President Kennedy kept his silk hat on except for taking the oath of office.

Larry was great as our leader, and Diane can also be spotted in the photo. I’m sure she was the tiniest piccolo player of all the bands in the entire parade.


Cooter and Steele

In May of 1961, I heard a little town in Southeast Missouri needed a band director, and I thought to myself, ‘ah-ha’, here’s my chance. I borrowed a car from a fraternity brother and drove to Cooter, and met the Superintendent. He offered me $4,200 for the nine-month contract. I took it. I think I was the only one from Arkansas State to interview for this job. I did not have my degree, since I had student teaching yet to take, and fortunately, Cooter started in the summer, and let out in September for eight weeks so the kids could pick cotton.

This was called a ‘split-term’ school. During my first summer at Cooter at cotton-picking time, I had an opportunity to finish my degree by going back to Jonesboro and doing my student teaching at Annie Camp Junior High in Jonesboro with the band director, Don Bailey. After the eight weeks were over, I went back to Cooter to resume teaching, my degree requirements completed. I got an immediate raise; it put me up to $4800 for the first year. I believe Larry’s job paid slightly less than $5000 our first year.

Our first jobs, Larry interviewed for the job and got it. The school at Steele had an established program, whereas Cooter had thirteen kids enrolled in the band program. There were three or four guys who were after the “Steele Job”, in band director jargon. Ronnie Cox, and a couple of others. The director there was Glen McCool, and had a reputation of being a decent band director. We soon learned different.

Larry and I were on each other’s doorstep constantly during the first year. Cooter and Steele were about six miles apart, so we did not have to travel far for discussions and input. Although we had come out of college with a good knowledge of all the instruments, and had extensive experience with instrumental music, we did not have a clue as to how a program was supposed to be administered, much less how to teach kids to play, so we grew from each other’s mistakes and advice.

We listened to each other’s bands and gave comments to help. Prior to any concert, we had dress rehearsals at night, and came and did critiques of the other’s group. We held many late night discussions of theory, and what we had learned that day, and how we might experiment tomorrow to improve ourselves as teachers and our students as players. Many times there was no way changes could be made at all, due to student personnel or finances, but we were forever creating ways to get around the system. In some cases, we had students doubling on other instruments, switching off when the part called for a different instrument.

We talked about a recruiting program and how to get kids in the band. Pat Richardson ran Arkansas Music Supply in Jonesboro and was an invaluable help in getting us going. His advice was priceless. I started first with a list of kids coming into the 6th grade from the principal, Mr. Cooper, and drove down country roads to talk to their parents about letting them join the band. It turned out well, and I did the same routine each fall before school. At the end of the 4th year; over a third of the school’s population was enrolled in the band at Cooter. There were over 100 kids in the band, and a little more than 300 in the school. Larry’s success was the same or greater, the techniques we used to get kids in the band were the same and worked well.

I think back, and realize much of the standard we had was developed by our interaction and acting on best practices of techniques implemented in teaching. This could be applied to any phase of business, but we were lucky: we had a partnership that helped our bands grow.

Larry and I always kept comparisons of our beginning classes and enrollment up through the grades. Larry taught at two schools, both Holland and Steele. He drove between the two little towns and kept the band programs going, with a great deal of progress. His efforts soon increased his reputation as a teacher in southeast Missouri, and northeastern Arkansas. We often talked about what was going on in Arkansas, since the professional organizations were ahead of where we were in Missouri.

Not all was band and kids, though: he was ready to help with anything I needed.


Cooter and Steele Marching Bands

Neither of us had a marching band, since we did not have football in either of our schools, and the only time we would ever be marching would be at Christmas or some other type parade. I got the kids out in the street by the school, lined them up and taught them to march. Then we learned to play and march, quite a feat to get both things going at once. You might be able to play, and you might be able to march, but to play and march at the same time, well, that’s another matter.

The annual Steele Christmas parade for 1963 was coming up. Larry came over one afternoon and asked me to enter the Cooter band. I was not too sure about this; it would be a big step for this little group. After I thought about it, and Larry told me this was going to be not only a parade, but also a contest. This was even more frightening. So, I thought about it, and decided we were going to enter. I thought to myself that this little band has worked very hard and should not want for recognition

Our uniforms weren’t bad; in fact they looked pretty good. We had a fundraiser the first year I was there and our uniform stock was in good shape. I took all the drums apart and painted the shells and rims so they matched the red and blue of the uniforms. A sign painter painted “Cooter Marching Band“ on the bass drum for us. I bought enough material to have the percussion strapped to the uniform and carriers for the bass drum and we were set to go. We had two snares, a bass drum and a cymbal player, this was our percussion section.

I wrote a little marching maneuver and taught them the drill, which could be performed in the street, with to-the-rear maneuvers that allowed some precision drill front and back. I avoided any use of side-to-side drill because of the width of the street.

The kids were in good spirit that day, and were sounding pretty good. The parade started and then I discovered that Blytheville was there and had entered the contest as well. Huge, loud Blytheville: it was scary thinking of competing with them. Hayti, MO, and Caruthersville, MO, were in the parade also. Steele marched too, but could not be counted in the competition.

We did our little drill several times, and the band played well. I was proud of them. At the end, the president of the Chamber of Commerce announced that Cooter had won the contest. The whole band was jubilant, and our school was very proud of the group’s performance, especially since we had stiff competition. We were written up in the Steele newspaper with photo and all. Larry gave me great support, and I was glad he was not in competition.

Once again, Larry’s friendship and encouragement helped me grow as a teacher and a man.


This Ain’t No Pool Hall

Larry had two little boys, Steven and Mark, by the time we had spent the first three years at our first job. We were very relaxed in our relationship, and it was fine to drop in, either at our apartment in Cooter, or their little house in Steele.

One Saturday morning, I had some wildly brilliant idea about something, was really excited to share it and get feedback from Larry, and I drove over to Steele that morning after breakfast.

I came screeching in the driveway, but Larry had slept in, and as I got there, I knocked, Sue said come in. Larry was sitting at the kitchen table, looking groggy, and still half asleep, barefoot and still in his robe and pajamas. I was amused as Sue sat a bowl of cereal in front of him, sprinkled a teaspoon of sugar on the cereal, and poured the milk. I laughed about that and smarted off, “Now she’ll have to eat it for you.”

Larry looked at me with a sleepy scowl and said, “Hey, this ain’t no pool hall!” Then I realized that my laughter and coming in to his house in a jubilant mood was a little more than he could stand so early. So, I quieted down until he felt like talking. He ate his cereal with his leg bent back and knee upright, with his heel resting on the seat of the chair. His left arm was wrapped around his leg and knee, and he ate with his right hand, all four fingers gripping the spoon with his thumb pointed down along the handle.

I kept my mouth shut until he was awake and Sue had the kids fed, and Larry then felt like talking.

In my discipline of my students over the years, I never forgot that admonishment by him, and used it many times when I thought my students were reaching the edge of getting in danger of my wrath. They must have believed me, because many of them remembered it, too.

In 1980, Scott took the saying and gave it to a lady who did cross-stitching. At Christmas that year, he gave me that quote, cross-stitched, matted and framed as a gift. I placed it on the wall in our den. It hangs there today, as one of Larry’s quotes I adopted for myself, typical of Larry and profound in its meaning, “This Ain’t No Pool Hall”

To be continued


Blogger ChrisWoznitza said...

Hi I´m Chris. Greatings from Germany Bottrop !!

5:21 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home