May 1, 2018

From the Vaults: Tatler 1971


    We always equated the beginning of the next school year with the start up of marching band in August.  The summer after my junior year, we had made plans to march in the Marquette Fourth of July parade as a prelude to taking a band trip to march in two parades at the Traverse City Cherry Festival the next weekend.  Did we think this moved the time table up making us instant seniors the moment school let out in June? Absolutely! Suffice to say that the entire Cherry Festival trip will have to wait for another day because the whole of this last segment of the Tatler series will be needed to tell the tale of ‘The Senior Year’ as gleaned from the pages of my high school yearbook.

    With that said, I do have to start with the summer band program because the loss of my original HS band director near the end of my sophomore year affected me more than I realized at the time.  Looking back now, I spent too much time my junior year being angry about it and the recipients of this ire were my band mates and the new director. It wasn’t that I had a diva personality, but it is very apparent to me now that I made life difficult for others in the band.  What snapped me out of it near the end of the year was a scene right out of the movie My Bodyguard when a senior buddy of a younger drummer suggested that it would be very good for my health to lay off of his little buddy.  It was offered more as a piece of advice and not an outright threat, but it made me realize what a putz I had been. I resolved to spend the trip to Traverse City and my senior year  repairing the self inflicted damage done to my reputation.

    The new band director had a plan:  take us to Traverse City so we could see other high school bands doing drum corps style field programs.  One of my not so pleasant junior year memories was dismissing this idea outright when the director told us what he wanted us to do with our football game halftime show the next fall.  As part of my atonement, the plan was to not only embrace this concept but to go above and beyond the the call of duty and do the routine flawlessly. In previous years, we either made an outline or two on the field or we just played in block formation.  Mr. Saari’s plan involved lining up the band in segments of four. We would be marching from one end zone to the other while playing and executing spins, turns, and formations that required a certain number of steps between each move.

    There were countless hours spent memorizing the drum parts on my own so the number of steps and turns were burned into my brain with the drum part we were playing.  It was a challenge and if memory serves me right, we performed the same program during a couple of halftime shows. Watching the video replay of our first show was a terrific learning tool because one trombone line managed to march right out of the camera’s field of view only to came scurrying back when they discovered their error (and yes, we let them know it!).  It was challenging and the new me had to fess up to the director that my initial assessment of the concept had been wrong. The band was up for the challenge and it was fun to do a new routine.

    The other hold over from my ‘poor attitude’ junior year was the perception that I was the ‘snare drum diva’.  A couple of other section leaders cornered me and accused me of being arrogant in assuming that I was the only one who could play the snare drum.  They wouldn’t take the bait when I suggested that they should swap places with the last chair players in their sections to see how it goes, but according to them, this wasn’t the same as my offense of always being the snare drummer.  When marching band ended, I made the conscious decision to play all of the other percussion parts and let the chips fall where they may. There was not a cymbal, triangle, woodblock, or tamborine part too small for me to play. It was the most fun I had ever had in band and when Mr Saari asked me “What are you trying to prove?”, I gave him the truth:  “Nothing! Just giving everyone their shot at being ‘THE snare drummer’.” It wasn’t that I wanted anyone to beg me to play the snare parts, but there was a certain amount of satisfaction in being asked to play a particular part. Doing it right the first time after watching the younger kids stumble about was a good reminder to my accusers that there was a reason I was co-first chair with my buddy Jim.  We played one concert march with yours truly getting to play a zillion big, sustained cymbal crashes where one had to hold them up and let them ring. I wasn’t trying to show anyone up, but when the same section leaders now accused me of ‘showing off’, I figured the tables had finally been turned. The only percussion part I didn’t play was tympany as Tim Vanderburg had inherited that post when his brother Steve graduated after our freshman year.   We weren’t going to mess with Tim’s legacy. As I said, it was fun playing various percussion pieces, but when the director told me to play the snare parts, compliance was my middle name.

    If we had any inkling over the years that the ‘judging’ done for homecoming events were weighted to the upper classes, our fall homecoming parade entry gave us proof.  Each class was responsible for a ‘spirit’ float and an ‘alumni’ float for the homecoming parade. As the marching band led the way east on Magnetic Street, we were almost to the hospital block when we noticed a brace of fire trucks heading our way.  We parted like the Red Sea (we were the Redman after all) and watched the trucks rumble to the back of the parade where our paddle wheel steamer alumni float (“We Will Steam To Victory”) was ablaze. A smudge pot used for the smokestacks had touched off the paper flower walls of the float.  An observant resident had managed to stretch our his garden hose to try and put it out but the float driver didn’t know what was going on behind him and didn’t stop until the fire trucks pulled up. Consequently, the garden hose didn’t reach far enough and by the time the fire department arrived, the float, piano and all, were fully involved…and we still took third place in front of the freshman class.  When the drum line was standing in the endzone before we marched onto the field for our pregame program, one of the cheerleaders from the Sault Ste. Marie Blue Devils stopped to chat with us. I will never forget the horrified look on her face when we told her the tale of the burning float!

    As for the final commentary from my friends and schoolmates, most were too long to relate here.  Something about graduating seemed to bring about longer yearbook entries. It is a shame that in our digitally connected world, inscribing yearbooks has taken a back seat to being bombarded by social media messages 24/7/365.  I doubt people will be digging out those messages in the years ahead to reminisce about the good old days. There were a lot of messages along the lines of, “Stay out of trouble and good luck next year in college.”

    A few of my NMU bound bandmates said. “See you next year in marching band,” which was in the back of my mind.  The clincher for me not joining the NMU band was the prospect of working at the Huron Mountain Club again. We signed on with the promise that we would work through Labor Day weekend and NMU’s marching band began in mid-August.  By my college orientation in late July, it was apparent that my marching band days were over. That didn’t mean that I wouldn’t be playing the drums with a band again, it just would not be on a football field. My day off at the club was on Thursday that first year so I would come home late Wednesday evening and sleep in before cramming a week worth of activities before heading back to the club on Thursday evening.  The phone rang at 8 am on one of those Thursdays. It was the extremely enthusiastic marching band director putting on the hard sell as to why they needed me at the first band rehearsal in August. I explained the job thing the best I could but he would not take ‘no’ for an answer. He made me promise to “think it over” but by the time the phone hit the cradle, my first year plan for college didn’t include leaving my summer job three weeks early.  In the end, year two and year three working at the club were interwoven with playing in my own band, Knockdown. It was fun and we played enough that I was knocking down as much money as my buddies who were working at other jobs like bagging groceries at the Red Owl so I had no regrets about not joining the Wildcat Marching Band.

    The other event that came up more than once was the draft.  We were all entered in the one lottery that we didn’t want to win so things like “don’t get caught in the draft” and “good luck with the draft” showed up on more than one yearbook message. I got more advice from several people in the band with aspirations of becoming the next Dear Abby:  “Of all the people I know, I probably understand you the least.” Then there was “Although we’ve had our differences (my frosh year), I’ve learned to cope with and understand why you sometimes weren’t in the greatest moods.” The ugly overtones of my junior year must have been cleansed some as my moods were analyzed more than once:  “I know we’ve had our differences but I really have learned and (sic) awful lot from you and not just about drumming.” Another young drummer said, “I don’t thank you for being simply rotten to me, bad luck in the future,” but still signed off with A.F.A. (and strangely enough, he wasn’t even around for my junior year). The last entry with Dear Abby overtones was from Annie who wrote, “Well, now you know that I do smile – & I’ve observed that you’re doing more of that yourself.”  Sue Anderson summed up our shared drum section experiences going all the way back to Whitman Elementary: “Remember good “ole” Whitman and our tryouts with Mr. Schmeberg (sic) and his 10 ½ shoe. Best of luck . . . See ya around. Ex-cymbal player.” In our freshman year, if band director Joe Patterson wanted a particularly big cymbal crash in a march, he motioned Sue’s way imploring her to “Hit it honey!” We never let her forget that.

    I hope the poor clarinet player who used to pick up attendance slips during my Physics class isn’t scarred for life:  “We have had our differences about Mr,. Adamson (Uncle Addy) and I’ve learned to be brave and careful about that room.”  Mr. A used to hold on to the doorknob with one hand and a Van de Graaff generator with the other. She would peer in the door to see if the coast was clear and we would always beckon her in and ‘zap’, she would get a static electric shock from the doorknob.  This went on for several weeks until we finally took pity on her and slid the attendance slip under the door when she refused believe us. Drummer buddy Jim’s girlfriend Debbie was still apologizing for keeping her shoes in our band locker and signing off as “The Hobbit”.  She went so far as to draw some Hobbit tracks, labelling them with “Hobbit tracks will haunt you forever.”

    As I was working on the first draft of this article, news about the death of Marquette’s mayor, Tom Baldini came up on the late news.  I turned to the faculty and staff pages in the 1971 Tatler and found that he had inscribed his picture with ‘All the best – Tom Baldini’.  It is hard to believe he was my Government – Economics teacher and was all of 27 years old that year.

    Acknowledging that the pages of my Tatler yearbooks are full of people who are no longer with us might seem to be a sad note to end this series with, but we all move on eventually.  One does not have to be physically present to be remembered. A life well lived is a collection of both good and bad memories. Take the time to remember these accumulated experiences – I found this little trip down memory lane to be an interesting one.  I bet you would, too. Now go and find those yearbooks!

Top Piece Video:  The sound track for the summer of 1970 – leading into my senior year!