Who would have thought it? Finding some documents hidden away in a cedar chest for over fifty years has had a negative effect on my ego, sort of like finding out for sure that Santa Claus does not exist. Let me explain what I mean.
I grew up in the small town of San Augustine, Texas. While in school I was a member of the high school band for a total of six years. Our band did the usual and normal things that bands do - play and march at football games, show out at basketball games, march in downtown parades, and participate in band contests. I felt good about our band composed of around fifty members. The high school auditorium was full of people every time we gave a concert. I never heard any complaints from anyone, until now.
Recently two of my class mates, and fellow band members, found some documents in their mother’s closet which shocked me. These old undated documents appear to have been written in the early 1950s. These documents were pages of comments written by band judges at a University Interscholastic League event in which the band participated. Stephanie and Sandra are not sure how their mother ended up with these forms, except that their father was on the school board for many years and perhaps he was given these grading forms by the band director, Geraldine Loving.
On this occasion our band played three numbers, “Front and Center”, “Lustspiel”, and “Shalimar”. One of these was a march piece, one an overture, and the third was a number to be sight-read by the band members.
One judge wrote on his form the following: “This number (Lustspiel) is entirely too difficult for this band to play. It would be unfair to offer detailed criticism. The band has no bass section, the solo coronet plays with a very undesirable vibrato, and the clarinets have no conception of a good tone. Of course, the instrumentation is impossible for a number of this caliber. Certainly the director, as well as the students, should know that they are not producing music. The band should spend at least a year on nothing but fundamentals and in trying to build up its instrumentation.” Not surprisingly this judge gave us a V rating, the lowest. Wow, and I thought we were producing good music!
A second judge wrote: “The ensemble tone of the group suggests that the individual students are not ready to cope with the difficulties of their parts. In my opinion it would be good judgment to emphasize individual technical problems for a time before attempting compositions of this caliber.”
A third judge wrote on his sheet: “I will not attempt to find individual errors as there are too many. I simply suggest in the future, if your band stays within this size and the limitation of the instruments that you now have, not to move into the professional band literature. There are many good easier overtures that your band could handle, and would show your band off far better, especially in contest work. I will not attempt to analyze your second overture….”
I can just imagine how our band director, Miss Loving, must have felt after reading these stinging criticisms of our musical efforts in a contest. She never told her students how bad we apparently sounded.
By the time I graduated high school in 1954, Mr. Kenneth Stephenson was our band director. Apparently we had improved somewhat as I note in the records that some individual awards were given to several band members at contest in 1953. Patsy Ledford received a 1st rating for her saxophone solo, Marialice Boyette received a 1st rating for her trumpet solo, Glenn Anderson captured a 2nd for his trumpet solo, and Carolyn Whitton received a 3rd for her trumpet solo. Take that, you judges..!
Well, now that I know the truth, the ugly truth, the unvarnished truth about our high school band way back in 1951, I feel like just having been told that I was an adopted child….the truth hurts. Well, as it is said, “time heals all wounds”, and with time, I shall recover from this shock.
It should be noted that in 2007 the San Augustine High School band won sweepstakes award at the band contest, which is a first division in all phases of the contest. And the band played on…..
“AND THE BAND PLAYED ON”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
P. O. Box 511
San Augustine, Texas 75972