You Want To Lead A Band
Miller October 1, 2014. We were sad to learn of the recent death of Dick Miller. May his stories live on.
by Dick Miller
was a Physics and General Science teacher in a large New York City
high school: large in enrollment, small in facility. In fact, it was
the same school I attended some years before (but that’s
another story). The school was overcrowded, so some students (and
teachers) started as early as 7:00 AM, while others stayed as late as
4:00 PM. I was on one of the later shifts.
took advantage of that late schedule by coming in early to rehearse
with the school band. I’m a trombone player, and this was a
good opportunity to keep in practice. The band had only one euphonium
player (the tenor voice of the tuba family), which reads the same
music as a trombone, so my contribution was welcome.
morning as I clocked in, I found the Assistant Principal pacing back
and forth in front of the time clock with a worried expression on his
face. “What's wrong?” I asked. “There's
today,” he replied, “and both band teachers are out
I have no one to lead the band for the assembly.”
by my musical background and the fact that I had just completed an
in-service course on conducting, I said, “I think I can
“Really?” he replied. “Sure,” I
It's just the Star-Spangled Banner and a couple of marches while the
students file in and out. I can handle that.” Visibly
the Assistant Principal left and I headed toward the auditorium.
kids in the band were pretty self-sufficient. The band teachers had
them well trained. They got their instruments out of storage, the
music librarian got out all the copies of the march books and the
Star-Spangled Banner and placed them on the appropriate music stands,
and the students were taking their seats with instruments in hand.
The conductor’s stand held a copy of the
version of the appropriate music and a baton. I was all set, or so I
all the students had taken their seats, I got their attention by
tapping on the conductor’s stand with my baton.
band teachers are out sick today. I am going to be filling in. Be
kind to the new guy.” They laughed. “To keep things
simple, we'll just play the first march in the book as the students
file in.” The band members all opened their march books to
first tune, as did I, and we waited for the student body to arrive at
the back doors of the auditorium.
the students arrived, I turned to face the band, gave the signal to
the drummers for a street beat and a roll-off, and gave the downbeat
for a rousing Sousa march. All went well. The students did a credible
job with a somewhat simplified arrangement of a fairly difficult
piece of music.
we approached the end of the music, I looked over my shoulder with
horror to note that there were still a lot of students who needed to
file in and take their seats. I signaled to the drummers for another
street beat and called to the band members to repeat the same march.
Little did I know that the long-established routine when a situation
like this occurred, as it did from time to time, was to play the next
march in the book.
signaled to the drummers for a roll-off. Apparently, the musicians in
the seats nearest the conductor’s podium heard what I said,
while those farther away did not, and followed the standard rule of
playing the next tune. Of course, the tunes were in different keys.
The cacophony was overwhelming. The musicians lasted about four
measures before they broke up completely and stopped playing. This,
obviously, caused the entire assembled multitude of about five
hundred students and teachers to break up, too.
all this pandemonium around me, I turned to face the audience, and
with a grand, sweeping gesture, made a great theatrical bow. This
plunged the auditorium into total chaos. Hoots, hollers, stomps,
whistles, and other rude noises ensued. As things quieted down, I
turned to the band, and said in a very loud voice, “Let's all
play the second
march.” We did so as the rest of the
students filed in to take their seats.
have no idea what the assembly program was about that day, but I
certainly won't forget my debut as the leader of the Tottenville High
(Unless you type
line of the message
to send it.)
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