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Proud papa gloats a bit

Indulge me for a mo’, folks. I know this ain’t exactly the usual profane and objectionable fare you’ve come to expect here, and there’s really not much reason you should care, if any. But dang it, I’m busting here and just can’t help myself. Ladies and germs, kindly allow me to present to you the Bessemer City (NC) High School marching band!

Never so much as heard of Enka, NC before, but it appears to be located just outside the scenic, neohippie doofus-infested burg of Asheville. To avoid nettling those of you who might not be interested in reading further, I’ll tuck the rest of the story below the fold.

Now, the reason for my paroxysms of parental pride can be seen at approximately 1:55 in the vid: the tall, short-haired young lady standing fourth from left in the frontmost rank playing clarinet? That just happens to be my beautiful, beloved daughter Madeleine—the brightest star in my sky, as I like to tell anyone with the patience to put up with my fatherly gushing—who, as it turns out, also just happens to be an extremely talented musician in her own right. She’s only in 8th grade, but despite her tender age has been judged an adept enough clarinetist to be issued a personal invite from the BCHS band director to perform with her seniors in the marching band, a rare plaudit indeed.

Naturally, after Madeleine texted me the link I group-messaged the above video to several friends and family members, among whom was one of my oldest and closest friends, Greg, youngest son of my own band/church-choir director and musical mentor, Bob Black. Years back I wrote up an obit for Mr Black here after his death, which to my undying fury was later lost in the Rooskie hack that wiped out almost two decades worth of CF archives, damn them all to hell and gone.

Now after a long stint living and working in NYC, Greg moved back to our shared hometown after his father’s passing and re-established his formerly NYC-based custom brass-instrument mouthpiece manufactory in a nicely refurbished downtown Mt Holly storefront two doors up from my late Uncle Gene’s old business, Charlie’s Drugs. Complementing the front-office and managerial acumen of his devoted wife, Greg has recently hired on an assistant or two to apprentice under him, learn the tricks of the mouthpiece trade, and just generally help out with getting the product out the door and into the hot little hands of Greg’s many satisfied customers.

Greg’s mouthpieces are known all over the world as simply the finest a trumpet, trombone, or French-horn player can possibly own; every name player from Dizzy Gillespie to the amazing Wynton Marsalis uses (or, in Gillespie’s case, used) Greg Black mouthpieces. Check out the GBM website’s “Dealers” page to see how widely Greg’s hard-earned reputation for quality, design excellence, and careful attention to detail has spread.

Point to all this being, Greg responded to my aforementioned text message with the following:

Nice…just talked with her band director here at NCMEA (North Carolina Music Educators Ass’nM).

He loves her on clarinet.

Said she’s very good.

On target for honors band stuff with her solo.

I could tell in his reaction he doesn’t want to lose her on clarinet.

But I mentioned that you were a multi instrument player and can help (with) making her a better musician.

What the penultimate line lamenting the awful prospect of “losing her on clarinet” refers to is, Madeleine has of late expressed great interest in learning how to play trumpet, which Daddy played himself for many years. Honestly, I still consider trumpet to have been my best instrument, even over guitar, simply because Bob Black took great pains to make sure I learned how to play correctly.

No matter how boring I might have found some of the minutiae, Bob built my musical house on a rock-solid foundation of fundamentals: scales; modes; the overriding importance of tonetonetoneTONE; breath control, tight embouchure and playing posture; harmony and counterpoint; the whole big ball o’ wax. He rigorously insisted that his students apply themselves fully and give their very best, regardless of what their level of inborn talent might have been. Or, y’know, not have been.

Ever see a trumpet player blowing his horn all red in the face, both cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk struggling to eat a pumpkin in one go; jaw locked into an overbite bad enough to cause his orthodontist to have a stroke; slumped over bent-backed in his chair with the horn’s bell down between his knees and pointing at the floor? Not in any bandroom Bob Black was in charge of you didn’t. Inattentive, lackadaisical slackness like that was NOT tolerated there—not for a second, not ever. Bob would have exploded in one of his legendary extended rants denouncing such witless boobery, and wasn’t the least bit shy about letting his young charges know of his displeasure, either. Keep it up, and said hapless boob would be out the door and enrolled in wood-shop class, a second study-hall period, or sentenced to the library shelving books and sweeping the floor most ricky-tick.

During a separate text-exchange with my ex-wife Suzie the same night as the previously-mentioned one, she told me that Madeleine hopes to attend Ohio State University to march in the OSU band, which was renowned even back when I was in high school for being the absolute best of the best—a renown they retain to this day. Money for that will certainly be a serious challenge, but I affirmed to Suze that if I had anything at all to say about it was gonna happen, by hook or by crook.

Update! SO. Just spoke with Greg, and he informed me that his dad was inducted into the NC Bandmasters Association Hall of Fame this past Sunday night (details here, along with a great old photo of Mr Black in those ever-present horn-rim spectacles of his). The plaque, with Mr Black’s name in the right-side column:

IMG 5481

Too, too cool, and eminently deserved. Congrats to Greg and the immortal soul of his dear departed father Bob, wherever his shade may roam. God bless you and your pop both, my brother.

Updated update! Just gotta include this bit, from the just-mentioned details/bio section.

Among his individual honors, Mr. Black was named Mount Holly’s Man of the Year in 1962 and later was inducted into the Bandmaster Association in 1976. Being one of 227 nationwide named a Distinguished Bandmaster of America by his peers, was indeed an honor. This included both Band and Chorus achievements. The Mount Holly Schools recognized his 35 years of teaching upon his retirement in 1985. Mayor Charles Black of Mount Holly proclaimed June 12th, 1985 “Robert H. Black Day.” The Mayor’s proclamation describes Bob Black’s service beautifully: “His 35 years of service in Mount Holly School System were marked by outstanding loyalty and devotion to the youth of our community, teaching hundreds of boys and girls, along with being a friend and counselor to them and their parents….his sphere of influence has extended beyond the classroom into the life of our community, enriching and improving life for all of us…throughout his career he has earned the respect and affection of his colleagues, students and community.”

Nothing but the God’s honest truth, that is. More music-career kudos:

Robert H. Black bettered his community as the Music Minister of First United Methodist Church in Mount Holly from 1950-1982. He played professionally in Charlotte with the following groups and artists when they came to town: Tom Jones, Issac Hayes, Judy Garland, Liberace, Tony Orlando & Dawn, Sonny & Cher, Billy Graham, Sanford & Son, Bobby Vinton, Walter Brennan, Bob Hope, and Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey.

All playing trombone, Mr Black’s personal axe-of-choice, over which he exercised a virtuoso mastery. He kept his trombone close at hand during class, reaching over to pick it up and play for us frequently to demonstrate some point or other for his students, and man alive! Bob could really wail on that horn of his, making it sit up, lie down, wag its tail, and beg for mercy, so total was his dominance of it. His playing was nothing short of a revelation: powerful, assertive, definitively musical, and entirely glorious. Another thing about him I won’t ever forget.

Another thing I well remember: back when my dad was sending me around to my erstwhile music teachers Ziggy Hurwitz and Bob Black in hopes these men for whom he knew I felt utmost respect and trust might succeed where he hadn’t in persuading his reckless, headstrong son to stay in college until graduation rather than haring wildly off to chase after his rock-star dreams, Mr Black urged me to sign on with the Musician’s Union in CLT if I was truly serious about being a professional player.

The above-listed paying engagements? Bob got hired for those, among others I know of, via the Musician’s Union, and knew firsthand the many benefits he’d received over the years from his membership therein. I DID consider his recommendation to join myself for several months—when a man like Bob Black offers advice, none but a blind fool would fail to mull it over very carefully—but after some asking around, I learned that in the small clubs and beer- and piss-reeking dive bars I knew I’d be playing in at first, the Union had no presence whatsoever. Most of the owners of those places didn’t even know there was a Musicians Union at all.

Having no inclination for being a sideman, which I thought of as being a lowly hired-hand shunted off to one side, sight-reading sheets of music for which I felt neither passion nor fondness, I decided the choice at hand was a real no-brainer, barely even a choice at all, really. In my arrogance and vanity, I longed for the center-stage spotlight’s fierce glare, not the dimly-lit anonymity of the wings. I believed myself talented enough, just plain good enough, to be able to capture and hold an audience’s undivided attention, rather than resigning myself to the unsung role of mere accompanist. I wanted to be the star, not just another readily-replaceable cog grinding away in the music-biz machine. And by God I would be, dammit!

Alas, things didn’t work out quite the way I’d hoped and planned. Even so, I sure did have myself a heck of a lot of fun along the way, and a surplus of unique, one-in-a-million experiences to boot. I wouldn’t trade those experiences and the incredible road-stories I got out of them for anything, not love nor money. Fact is, I crammed a century’s worth of living into thirty or forty years. Not too many people can say that.

A blue million folks have told me again and again that I should write a book, including my recently-departed mother in law Xenia. Guess I really should at that, eh?


3 thoughts on “Proud papa gloats a bit

  1. Mighty fine indeed, Mike. One of my sons settled on swimming only as his high school sport and played in the band. And in spite of the OSU rep, he played in the greatest of college bands, the UNC Marching Tar Heels. UNC costs are reasonable compared to that Yankee school 🙂 Just saying

    Best of luck to her and I can see why you are proud of her.

  2. Excellent,

    we had a local kid who used to get made fun of because he took his ukulele everywhere, was a bit o a dork, now though, he is Jake Shimabukuro one of the finest ukulele players in the state,

    lift those kids up, they will be aspired to greatness

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