My School Band Directors

Glancing through my list of now more than 50 names of teachers who have influenced me, I noticed several band directors. What exactly was it about that particular profession which seemed to produce remarkable individuals who made such a lasting impression on me? Indeed all through my four years of college I held on to my goal of becoming a junior high school band director who, perhaps after of number of years honing my craft, might some day attain the ultimate position in music- a high school band director.

Dr. Donald E. McGinnis stands atop the apex of that succession of men I looked up to both figuratively and literally. However, before I reach him, I would be remiss if I didn't recognize Mr. Kessin who arrived one morning in my fourth grade classroom at Douglas Elementary School in South San Francisco to announce that a band would meet once a week in the basement. Any child could bring a musical instrument from home and join and Mr. Kessin would teach them music. One would learn how to press fingers down, blow air on bamboo, pull bows across strings, buzz lips on mouthpieces, count time in your mind, and finally play a scale, tones reaching higher and higher following notes climbing a staff and watching the baton of Mr. Kessen as he painted four invisible beats in the air.

Both of my parents enjoyed music. They sang in the Steward Memorial United Presbyterian Church every Sunday. My Dad also loved to play his saxophone with a buddy, trumpet playing Ronnie Yourd, who was the son of our Presbyterian minister and taught high school science in Berkeley, across the bay.

My father actually owned two saxophones, one tenor, one alto.  As a young man in Lincoln, Nebraska, he had played in a band for dances on occasion and had hung on to his instruments even after becoming an employee of the Western Pacific Railroad and transferring to the San Francisco office. Though he persevered as a bread-winning head of his young family, he must have allowed a wisp of his dance band days to linger in his heart for I found not only the saxes, but a small, mysterious, black leather cylindrical case underneath the bed. As a very young child I discovered this intriguing case with a special clasp I was finally able to unlock. Out spilled dark black cylinders made of wood, which rolled on the floor. They could be toy barrels, telescopes, megaphones. They had silver rings and keys and rollers which opened and closed other holes. My reverie was short-lived for my parents quickly gathered me up and let me know I had accidentally found my father's old clarinet. The revelation came with an unspoken bargain. At the young age of four or five, I could not play with this instrument, but if I lived another life time (say four more years), I might be allowed to play on an instrument. But that's another story...

All my band directors gradually reinforced the same attractive attributes in my young mind. They loved music and believed we could together make music. Of course they would get discouraged when we failed to reach the seemingly high goals of playing in tune, together, not only without mistakes but with brio and brilliance. They despaired of our lack of self-discipline and preparation. Yet each director dreamed a vision for us of a final ultimate performances that would go beyond our individual weaknesses and limitations and amaze us and inspire our audience. What a worthy aspiration for me to hold secretly inside as I struggled to divine the path leading to the rest of my life after school.

Because of my junior high band director's determination, my father reluctantly accepted the fact that my rented metal clarinet, albeit cheap and durable, was not the brand new French instrument made of wood Mr. Patenoe wished for me. Because of my first high school director, dear Mr. Curtis, who could come close to tears when we let him down with our inattentiveness and inadequate preparation, I began to sense an adult's sensitivity and seriousness towards me and hope for what we might accomplish.

Because of my final high school band director, Mr. Wolfle, I was unswervingly guided towards Dr. Donald McGinnis and Ohio State University. I can still recall my surreal sense of my band director bringing me to audition for Dr. McGinnis, feeling Mr. Wolfle's deep respect and utter humility in his presence. Mr. Wolfle had graduated from Ohio State and was convinced that here would be the ultimate band director and teacher for me. Thus began my four years under the spell and baton of Dr. McGinnis.