In my lifetime I’ve had several proud moments, but my most memorable accomplishment happened when I was 14 and a freshman in Logan High School.
As an eighth grader, I had chosen my high school classes with great anticipation, but what I looked forward to most about this new chapter in my education was becoming a member of the high school band.
That first day of school I went to what I knew would be my favorite class and met a man whose teachings remain with me today, Logan’s band director, Armand Houk.
“What instrument do you play?” asked Mr. Houk. “Nothing,” was my reply. “But I want to be in the band.” Looking back on that day, I have to smile. Imagine signing up for the high school band when you can’t play a band instrument! It wasn’t my fault that the elementary school I attended had no instrumental music program. There were definite advantages of living in town and starting band in the fifth grade. But I would not be dissuaded.
After determining that I wanted to learn to play a band instrument and that my parents would purchase one for me, Mr. Houk suggested I come to the junior high band practice where I would learn about marching and later could start lessons on my chosen instrument.
I felt a little embarrassed going to a class of seventh and eighth graders, but if this is what I had to do to be in the band, I was willing. It was at least two weeks before Mr. Houk asked whether I had decided on an instrument. Perhaps he was testing this aspiring musician. Was she really serious?
It hadn’t taken long for me to decide. I had fallen in love with the trombone! I think it was the countermelody that attracted me. After all, it’s simple to play the melody, but the trombones have all of these neat runs that embellish the piece of music.
At my first lesson, I learned some basics and was able to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” I could already read music, thanks to Alice’s Accordion Studio, and after lesson number three, I proudly took my seat in the junior high band — last chair, third part. But that was fine. I didn’t aspire to be the best trombonist or to sit on first chair. I just wanted to be in the band!
My dear parents, bless their hearts, not only bought the trombone but endured the grueling practices, which took place in our basement. I can still hear my dad stomping his foot on the floor and yelling, “Stick a rag in that horn.” One day he came home and presented me with a special gift, a mute.
Dad told the story many times of the afternoon he saw me walking up Old McArthur Road, beaming with pride and holding my purple and white uniform as if it were a trophy. That night my parents honored my request to go visit Grandma and Grandpa Leonard. Of course, I wore my uniform!
Two months later I marched in the Christmas pageant (this was different from the Santa parade, which was a separate event). Would you believe I still remember the third trombone part to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing!” Life couldn’t get better. So I thought, but I was wrong.
One day Mr. Houk asked the trombones to play something by themselves. I don’t remember the particulars, but I still remember those words spoken over 60 years ago: “Everyone move down one seat.” I had been promoted from last chair to first chair! I maintained that “seat of honor” for the rest of the year. Mr. Houk believed in me, and I worked hard.
The following year I was in the senior high band, back on third part, last chair, but I was content. My senior year I was playing first part again. Later, I was in both the marching and concert bands at Ohio University. (This was before the elite 110). Occasionally I played at church.
In 2001 when I was inducted into the Logan High School Academic Hall of Fame, I paid tribute to several teachers who had inspired me. Naturally, I spoke about my band director. When I was given a copy of my video-taped speech, I asked for a second one which I mailed to Mr. Houk. He wrote back, thanking me and expressing his feelings of unworthiness for my kind remarks. Then he added, “I played the tape for my daughter, and will play it again next week when my son comes.” Several years later when I read of Mr. Houk’s passing, I was so glad I had thanked him for giving me the gift of music.
In the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus, the band director, portrayed by Richard Dreyfus, receives numerous accolades upon his retirement, signifying that Mr. Holland’s opus was the legacy he left to his students. I, in no way, claim to be the best student Mr. Houk ever taught. But one thing is certain. Not many of them are still playing.
Since 2002 I’ve been a member of the Lancaster Community Band, a great group of musicians of varying degrees of musical abilities. I’m not one of the best musicians in the group, but I wear my black and white band shirt proudly, just as I wore that purple and white uniform many years ago.
Karen Kornmiller writes a bi-weekly column published in The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.