Band, Chorus and other Music
It must have been that old radio. Yes, you remember the one -- it stood next to the south window in the living room. I don't recall it's make, but you can be assured it was the best. Able to pick up stations all over the country, it had a multiple band dial which could pick up short-wave also.
That old radio brought the family the news of the world, including news of the war effort in far away lands. There were also farm reports, commentaries, Tom Mix, Captain Midnight, One Man's Family, etc., and best of all -- MUSIC!
Yes, there I found my favorite program, the Cities Service Band of America, conducted each week by Paul LaValle. The stirring music punctuated with the best of marches would command my attention.
Later a 45 rpm record player was wired into the system. At that point it seemed that an endless stream of RCA Red Seal performances were available at 421 Oak Street any time desired. Spike Jones' fabled recordings were also permitted.
Yes, that dear old radio surely was the catalyst that began my appreciation of quality music.
I sort of melded into the church choir at an early age. Mom was a most faithful member, and soon Esther joined in. What else was a boy to do? Well, I guess I must have held my own and was soon lending my voice to the cause.
Music teacher. Eccentric, yes - but Prof Willard R. Stone was a most wonderful man. He had the uncanny ability to make the old pump, reed organ in the church, inspire even the coldest of hearts. I took all of six months of piano lessons under his patient tutelage. Unknown to me, that time was to prove most rewarding. Prof Stone died on Oct 23, 1955.
Calvin Shanks, (Hamilton's premier band director), was to become a very strong influence in my school years. I wanted to play the trumpet. Who didn't? Mr. Shanks had needs for other instrumentalists also, so convinced me to pick up the mellophone that sat in the closet since the school days of brother Jack. I accepted and then began to struggle to make something worthwhile of the effort. Somewhere in the back in my mind, I knew I didn't have the perfect pitch of my dad, nor the drive for perfection exhibited by my sister, but there was a desire to contribute to the cause of good music. Yes, we were beginning to hear another sort of music that left the soul empty, and I was choosing to bypass that.
Lessons were given in the basement of the grade school in a small room that would have to do. Musicians seldom receive their just rewards. I had quite a time trying to fit in practice time. There were just too many things to occupy a young boy's attention, as you can tell from the other stories.
Well, I survived, as did many of my classmates. We soon found ourselves as members of one of the best high school bands in the state. Besides the parades in town, we performed at the Fall Festival in the city park, and two Memorial Day services each year, (Greenwood and Oakwood.) There were also the trips to the county fair in Kahoka, MO; homecoming at Culver-Stockon College in Canton MO, (Calvin Shanks alma mater); homecoming at Western State Teacher's College in Macomb, the Nauvoo Grape Festival, the Montebello Township picnic, and numerous others.
We performed before each home football game and the half-time shows featured the band forming a giant letter H on the field. Home basketball games utilized a smaller unit known as the pep band. We performed from the stage of the auditorium that opened up at it's back, and overlooked the basketball court.
Every summer we were afforded the opportunity to sign up for community band. This was built on the core of the high school band and added alumni, townsfolk, and friends. A rickety old bandwagon was pulled to the center of Broadway at the City Hall. Lights were strung and parking allowed down the center of the wide street from one end of downtown to the other. The businesses were all open as this was Saturday night, the busiest of the week. We got paid for our participation. Fifty cents for the Wednesday rehearsal, and $1.00 for the concert. The check from the city arrived just in time in December to help with our Christmas shopping.
Calvin Shanks, and every other teacher I was fortunate enough to have touch my life, gave firm instruction with a great allowance for my lack of understanding and application. He stayed with me and I know exhibited that attitude throughout his career, to provide Hamilton with a band program that was the envy of the midwest.
The grade school operetta's and vocal music are the topic of another story, but I do want to touch on the high school vocal program. While not up to the same level as the band program, there was still a good deal of pride to be derived from this effort. A number of choruses were to be sought after, including boys', girls', and mixed. Then, there were the smaller groups. The premier vocal ensemble was the Senior Songsters. Composed of eight seniors this group consistently outperformed all others. The year I became a member, we received superior ratings at both district and state contests. This marked the first time this was ever accomplished. Back in those days we could sing religious songs with great fervor. (Were You There?)
Go to next story
Go to list of stories
Return to Family at home
Return to Bob's page
Return to Hamilton Index