Posts Tagged ‘bands’


May 27, 2019

L e t ‘ s D I s c u s s

Chapter 1 — Marching Bands

The man with the baton, whose picture I took a few years ago, and I have something in common. He was leading the Williamsburg Drum and Fife Corps, representing the very first U.S. Army marching musical units. They started during the American Revolutionary War. Over time woodwinds and brass were added to become the Army bands like the 30th Army Band that I led as drum major in Munich.

Richmond 162

Fife and Drum Corps, WIlliamsburg, VA

It was a very good band. After all, Army bands are made up of professional musicians. The Fort Benning Maneuver Center of Excellence Band is truly impressive right now, not only on parade, but in concert, also. Let me hastily add, the Munich band was quite good not because of me. My MOS was “percussionist.” I was good enough to know that I was outclassed by the rest of the section. However, I think I was quite proficient as a drum major, so I didn’t feel guilty about my musician status. That’s because I had been legendary band director Bob Barr’s first male Jordan Vocational High School Red Jacket Band drum major. He accepted nothing less than a student’s absolutely best effort. And, not only did I lead the band in football game halftime shows, I led it in ROTC Pass in Review parades, so I already knew how to do that. As a side note, when he learned I wanted to be a radio announcer, he introduced me to WDAK’s Ed Snyder, a savvy announcer who had a degree in broadcasting from the University of Alabama. Ed became my mentor and helped me land my first job in broadcasting at WDAK in 1948. Pardon the digression. Back to the subject, marching bands.

Then, there is the college marching band. My experience there is quite limited. In the early 1950s, I was in the Mercer University ROTC band. It was the school’s only band at the time, formed when I was there to play for ROTC parades. I played snare drum in that one. Maybe someone reading this has big time college band experiences to tell us about, bands like Georgia’s, Auburn’s, Alabama’s, Tech’s, etc. I have four great-nephews and one great- niece who played at Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. I don’t know if any of them will see this, though.

If I get any comments on this way too long post, I’ll continue the series. The symphony will be Chapter 2.

Saving the Symphony

January 19, 2014

Before Saturday night’s wonderful performance of Wagner and Straus by the Columbus Symphony orchestra, I was speaking with Columbus cultural icon Clason Kyle. I told him how pleased I was to see the school busses arriving with a lot of middle and high school kids to attend the concert. When I told him that my first exposure to a live symphony orchestra was when the Pittsburg Symphony played the 9th Street USO in about 1947, he remembered that he was there that night also. One of the Three Arts League members bought tickets for students of the Columbus and Jordan High bands. We sat on the first two rows. I was blown away by the sound of that live orchestra. I have loved symphonic music ever since. Clason, a Columbus High student, wasn’t a member of the band. I guess he was there simply because he wanted to be.

“Remember when the train came by?” he asked me.

The 9th Street USO, torn down long ago, sat very close to the tracks than run down 9th Street.

After he mentioned it, I did remember.

“The conductor of the orchestra was quite amused by that.”

I even remembered the encore that the orchestra played, the rousing march “El Capitan.” No doubt the conductor knew the high school bands were there and agreed to play something especially for us. I heard that the Columbus High kids had requested that number because their director was called “Captain Lee.” Who knows, maybe that was true.

I had to reflect on all of that when I saw all those school kids lining up go into the Bill Heard Theater. I also reflected on how important is it for the symphony to invite school children so they can be exposed to the great sound of a full symphony orchestra. There is just nothing like hearing live symphonic music. Symphony audiences all over the country are getting smaller. Attracting young audiences is the only hope of reversing that trend.

And it was good thing the symphony played Wagner and Straus because those composers really knew how to get the most out of an orchestra. They also knew how to write not only beautiful, but also exciting music.

No doubt, thanks to the sponsors who paid for the kid’s tickets, more students will be invited to attend future concerts. To love that music, a person has to be exposed to it. It wouldn’t hurt for the orchestra to follow the example of the Pittsburg Symphony and play an encore targeted for them, something like “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” or the theme from “Star Wars.”

The Most Unusual Funeral I Have Ever Attended

August 9, 2013

It was truly unique.  It was also very moving, especially for anyone who had played in a Bob Barr directed Jordan Vocational High School Red Jacket Band.  I was one of  the few in the Evangel Temple sanctuary who had done that.   I was in the original Bob Barr Jordan band that was formed in 1946 when he came to the school.  Jimmy Cross, who died this week in Newnan of heart disease,  became a member about six years later. 

More than 20 years ago, Jimmy, along with other Jordan band alumni, formed an alumni band to play at a Jordan-Columbus football game half-time show that memorialized Bob Barr shortly after he died.  My contribution was to announce the show on the public address  system at Kinnette Stadium.  So many Jordan alumni showed up that the stands were packed. When the band came on the field playing the band’s signature “St. Louis Blues March,”  the crowd jumped  to its feet cheering.  I almost couldn’t speak my next lines I was so moved.  I wasn’t alone. There were a lot of tears in that  stadium that night.  My article in the July, 1991 issue of  Reader’s Digest tells the story.

  The band did not disband after that night.  It morphed into the Bob Barr Community Band, which is now made up of alumni from many high schools,  and, at Jimmy’s request it performed at his funeral.  He was also a member of the 17-piece Cavaliers, which also performed today at his funeral.   

It was a Christian service, but none of the songs played were hymns.  The Cavalier’s opening number was “Stars Fell on Alabama,” one of Jimmy’s favorites.  It also  played Count Basie’s swinging “Good News,” another  of his favorites.  For the closing number, most of the Cavaliers players got up and joined the Bob Barr Community band. 

Gene Kelley, who played first-chair trumpet and was the JVHS band president when I was the drum major, wowed the crowd in  the stands at a Jordan half-time show in 1947 when he played a solo of “Stormy Weather.”  It was so popular that he did it again the next year, and it became a tradition and the band’s first-chair trumpet played it for a number of years.  Jimmy played it when he became first trumpet.  Before Gene died he asked Jimmy to play it at his funeral, which he did, and today it was played for Jimmy by Bill Edwards and the community band.    

Following the service, the band played a 25-minute concert, which did include a hymn, and ended with the band playing the “St. Louis Blues March.”  Very special, indeed, for a very  special trumpet player, husband, father, grandfather, bank chairman, and, certainly not least of all, musician.

My Kind of Halftime Show

December 24, 2010

Knowing I was once a high school, college*,  and U.S. Army bandsman, Milton Jones sent me a link to this YouTube of one of the most clever halftime band formations I have seen.  This is the type of halftime show that is not only entertaining, but shows incredible formation marching skills. It’s the University of Hawaii Marching Band performing a stick figure kickoff. I had to share it with you.

*I know a lot of my family will find it news that I was once in a college band. I don’t think I ever told them that I was a member of the Mercer University ROTC band.  It was formed for the sole purpose of playing for Mercer ROTC parades; it  also played at basketball games.  I made the parades, but they managed without me at the basketball games because I was working nights as an announcer at radio station WBML in Macon.  

The Maneuver Center of Excellence Band Gives Excellent Christmas Concert

December 6, 2010

My Army band memories came flooding back yesterday afternoon as we sat in the mezzanine of the Bill Heard Theater.  The Fort Benning band, now called the Maneuver Center of Excellence Band, was delighting an almost-full house with its annual Christmas concert, “Ringing in the Holidays!” ( Bill Heard is a 2,000-seat theater.) The band also packed them in again for the evening performance. It got a long, standing ovation at the end of the concert, and, I am sure it was not just because Columbus is an Army town, one that continually shows its appreciation for the Fort Benning troops, but because it was an excellent concert.

Ft. Benning Maneuver Center of Excellence Band's "Ringing in the Holidays" concert, Bill Heard Theater, River Center, Columbus, GA

30th Army Band, Munich, Germany, 1955

The 30th Army Band, the one in which I was a percussionist and drum major in 1954-55, no longer exists, and a Google search produced no history of it.  It was located at McGraw Kaserne, Munich, Germany, which was headquarters for the U.S. Army in southern Germany. 

We also played some concerts for civilians, but our main function was to play for review parades, not only at McGraw Kasern,  but for Army posts all over southern Bavaria.  Every week we would board a bus and travel to other kaserns and posts.  The views could be spectacular as the bus would wend its way to some remote posts high in the Alps.

Bob Barr Community Band’s Twentieth Anniversary Concert, Monday, Dec. 8, 7:30 P.M. at Jordan High

December 2, 2008

  High School memories flowed into my consciousness last night as I listened to the Bob Barr Community Band rehearse for its twentieth anniversary concert. I was there because my old friend Dr. George Corradino asked me to emcee the concert since I emceed the very first one twenty years ago.

  The Bob Barr Community Band was formed in 1988 and named in honor of highly successful Jordan Vocational High School band director Bob Barr because of his legendary contributions to his students at Jordan between 1946 and 1962. His Jordan bands won national band contests in cities such as New York and Chicago. He was also conductor of the Columbus Symphony from 1951 to 1962.

  Hearing a band from the inside is different from out in the auditorium, especially when you are playing an instrument. It goes beyond verbal description, just as music does that. It’s emotional, just as music is emotional.  I took this picture because this is where I played a snare drum, and sometimes a set of drums, with the original Bob Barr Jordan Vocational High School Red Jacket Band sixty years ago. Well, actually we rehearsed on the stage of the school’s one-thousand-seat auditorium because this band room hadn’t been built yet. 

Bob Barr Community Band Rehearsal, Jordan High, Columbus, GA

Bob Barr Community Band Rehearsal, Jordan High, Columbus, GA

  It is an extraordinary experience because you are a part of the whole that produces what can be – if you do it well – extremely moving results as the band, or orchestra, releases the emotion of great composers such as Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Sousa, Gershwin and others.  I took this picture from the percussion section because that was where I experienced the unforgettable conducting of the demanding, but highly inspiring Bob Barr.

  Remembering this, I can understand why these former high school band students come together to play for community events. They simply enjoy doing what they enjoyed doing most in high school. And this band plays for a lot of community events. 

  Monday night’s Twentieth Anniversary Concert will be at the Jordan Vocational High School auditorium starting at 7:30. Admission is $5. All proceeds go to the current Jordan High band.  Not only will you hear popular Christmas songs like “Sleigh Ride,” “Ring of Joy,” and “Christmas Classics,” but an original composition by the late Bob Barr, as well as such favorite marches as “Them Basses” and “The Footlifter.”

  Again, it’s Monday, December 8, 2008 at 7:30 at Jordan High auditorium, admission $5, with procedes going to the current Jordan band. Hope to see you there.