Chuck’s career in school bands and orchestras
began at Amarillo’s
Stephen F. Austin Jr. High School
in 1960. He’s pictured here in the fall
of 1961 as an eighth-grade snare drummer in parade uniform. Notice the long-obsolete underhand grip on
the left-hand drumstick.
After three years of snare drumming, bass
drumming, and tuneful percussion (persecution?) work in both marching and
concert bands, Chuck was selected Austin JHS’s Outstanding
Band Member as a freshman in May, 1963.
Band director Pat Jones is pictured presenting Chuck a plaque in honor
of that designation.
The school’s colors, green and gold, as well as its mascot, the grizzly bear,
were chosen by AJHS’s first principal, “Boss Ross” Larsen, a graduate of Baylor University
and a former Amarillo
High School championship
football player. Mr. Larsen was Chuck’s
principal for five of his six years of junior high and high school.
Upon becoming a high school sophomore in the
fall of 1963, Chuck became a member of the Amarillo High School Golden Sandie Band. He’s pictured here in the new
uniforms that replaced the “Old Gold” uniforms worn by the nationally-commended
Sandie bands of the late 1950s. The Amarillo High School mascot is the Golden
Sandstorm, a personification of the severe dust (“sand”) storms that began in
the 1920s and became part of the full-fledged Dust Bowl during the drought of
the 1930s. The Golden Sandstorm mascot
was represented pictorially as a vaguely-tornadic
golden cloud. An example can be seen at
the right end of the banner in the pep rally picture below or on the school’s official site.
The Golden Sandie Band was a perennial
participant in sports pep rallies.
Pictured here is the fall
1965 pep rally for the AHS vs. (Amarillo)
Tascosa High School Rebels football game.
That’s Chuck in the light blue (aqua) shirt under the “A” in SANDIES, playing snare drum.
Notice the mixed group of cheerleaders at the front of the stage. Texas schools in the 1960s had cheerleading
squads composed of an equal number of boys and girls, while in Oklahoma,
cheerleaders were then and remained for decades largely all-girl groups.
Since the Sandstorm was a difficult mascot to
portray in person, The
Sandman, instantiated here as AHS Senior ’66, Ben Ingam,
fulfilled the mascot function at athletic events. The Sandman, dressed in an old-fashioned
early-1900s long nightgown, complete with stocking cap, carried a one-gallon
Sandie Spirit Jug (little gold jug?) which purportedly contained the Sandie
Spirit from all the preceding Sandie classes.
When The Sandman un-corked the bottle, the current Sandies yelled at the
top of their lungs to capture more Sandie Spirit in the bottle and to keep the
Spirit(s) stored there from escaping. It
was a pretty cheesy premise, but it worked at championship level!
Chances are Dimitri Shostakovich
did not anticipate how literally the AHS
Orchestra percussion section would take his fortississimo
marking of this heavily accented cymbal crash (Richard V.), bass drum beat
(Chuck) and tympani note (Susan B.)
Check the biceps on that bass drummer!
Having won the AHS drum major tryouts in
April 1965, Chuck became drum major of the Golden Sandie Band for the 1965-66
school year. He’s pictured
here in uniform for that task.
During marching season, high school drum majors both
lead the band in field performances and conduct the band in the stands before,
during, and after football games.
Leading the field performances was great fun and a little nerve-wracking,
too. Since they’re rehearsed at least
two hours for each minute of show (about 14 hours, total each week), most
half-time shows for football games go very smoothly, but some go more smoothly
than others. At one Friday night
performance, Chuck gave the signal to start the show, stepped off, and managed
first to shed the large plume from his busbee (tall
British-style helmet), and then to throw his signal baton about 20 yards—far
beyond hope of recovery--while making a
sharp-cornered turn as the band came on the field. These were but harbingers, not at all serious
in themselves. Things went well through
the rest of the show until literally the final note. With the band facing the press box and
holding the last chord of a tune now forgotten, Chuck gave a somewhat
over-exuberant cutoff signal, bringing both arms over his head with a jump and
then down. At the top of the jump, he
felt all four connection points between his uniform pants and the suspenders
holding them up gave way. Only by the
grace of the very high rise of the pant tops was Chuck able, with a gesture
resembling a Roman centurion’s salute (but lower), to get both himself and the
band off the field while remaining in possession of all components of his
uniform. It was close, but few of the band and practically none of the audience had any inkling of
how near they had come to observing considerably more than they had come to
Conducting the band in the stands was a pure joy. The sound pressure wave made by a 120-piece
marching band at the downbeat of a loud tune is absolutely overwhelming when it
hits the conductor. Being in control of
that powerful a collective musical instrument has to be experienced to be
believed or appreciated. It’s really a
rush and is quite addictive. Almost
forty years after putting down his baton for the last time, Chuck is still
occasionally observed “conducting” music played by his computer’s iTunes
application and often wondering what lay on a career path not taken.
One of the duties of the Sandie drum major
was to recruit the male members of the band for duty as the ROTC
Band (Reserve Officer’s Training Corps) for the
annual Inspector General’s inspection.
Pictured here are the none-too-happy-looking members of that illustrious
group practicing for the inspection in the spring of 1966.
A much more pleasant drum major duty was to crown and,
afterwards, kiss the Sandie Band Queen.
These pictures show wide-angle
views of the crowning at the half-time of the 1965 AHS vs. Tascosa football
game. The Tascosa band (on the left) did
their crowning first. Their drum major
and band queen had been dating for quite some time, and during the
post-crowning activities it soon became a matter of concern whether or not they
would require resuscitation. In due
course, it became apparent that they were in the process of resuscitation,
though it wasn’t at all clear who was resuscitating whom. When the Sandie couple’s turn came, Becky
received her crown, rose to her feet, and presented her cheek, whereupon a
mildly disappointed drum major respectfully bussed her
cheek and continued with the half-time festivities.
Almost stepping on the hem of Becky’s dress, Chuck
escorts the newly-crowned queen from the field, as the whole entourage is
blown laterally ten yards or so by a gust of ever-present Texas Panhandle wind.
..As is indicated by the
patches on Chuck's
letter jacket, pictured here, the Sandie Band took Outstanding Band honors
in 1964 at the Enid Tri-State Music Festival.
The band’s most memorable performance included a very difficult piece by
Percy Grainger, the Lincolnshire Pos(e)y, a collection
of English folk songs arranged for wind band in the very early 1900s. The inclusion of one section where different
groups in the band played in different time signatures ( 2
½ / 4 and another that escapes memory), as well as the use of rarely-seen
instruments such as the A-clarinet and the English horn (similar to an oboe),
in addition to the overall technical difficulty of the music made Grainger’s
composition a challenge for high school players. Interested readers may listen to samples of the six folk song arrangement that
comprise the Lincolnshire Posy at the Amazon website.
In 1965, the AHS Orchestra took similar honors at Enid
with a performance that included Chuck’s all-time favorite, Nikolay
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter
[Festival-] Overture. Russian
composers are known for writing nationalistic, soul-stirring music, and
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter is
the epitome of that tendency. If the
reader can listen to the Russian Easter,
particularly the last three minutes or so, and remain unmoved, (s)he should check immediately for the presence of vital
signs. In a noon-time school assembly in
1965, the AHS Orchestra brought an audience of mostly-sophomore high school
students on their lunch hour to their
feet for a standing ovation lasting more than two minutes with this stirring
piece of music. [I will never forget that! It nearly made a band director/orchestra
conductor of me. Carri, if you’ll make
sure that at least the last few minutes, but preferably all of this piece is
played when I leave this old world, I’ll be grateful. –Dad/Chuck]. Readers who wish to listen to a very short, and somewhat non-representative sample of the Russian Easter can access Amazon.com’s UK website. Those US readers who might wish to
purchase a recording can find copies at Amazon.com’s US website and at
Apple’s iTunes site. The 1990 performance by the Gothenburg Symphony on
Deutsche Grammophon CD 429984-2 and the Chicago
Symphony’s RCA Victor recordings are highly recommended.
Occasionally, the Amarillo Symphony Orchestra employed
college students to fill in for vacationing symphony players during the summer
months. Chuck played auxiliary
percussion (tubular chimes, concert bells, cymbals, etc.) for the Symphony
during its 1966 (’67?) summer season. An
ASO concert performed in the
amphitheater of the Palo
Duro Canyon is pictured
here. That’s Chuck on the far left
behind the tympani (“kettle drums”), facing the tubular chimes.
Barely visible behind the announcer at the far left of
the picture is the Tascosa high school (Rebel) cannon. This was used in the performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture later that
evening. The orchestra had a little
unexpected help during that performance from a rather large thunderstorm whose
first gust reached the amphitheater just as the 1812 performance reached the section that calls for the cannon
shots. Quite a number of the orchestra’s
music stands blew over and not just a few copies of the individual parts
departed for locations unknown. Just as
the first cannon shot fired, a huge clap of thunder considerably augmented the
cannon’s very formidable roar. In possibly
foolish compliance with the maxim “the show must go on,” the orchestra finished
its performance of the 1812, playing
from memory with Mom Nature’s improvised accompaniment. All of the audience and the orchestra members
survived, mostly unscathed.
1966 - 67
In the fall of ’66, Army ROTC scholarship in hand, Chuck
struck out for Houston and the hallowed halls of “The Harvard of the South,”
William Marsh Rice University (at an average of three feet above sea level,
also known as “William Rice’s marsh” when hurricanes came close). He’s shown
here in his Rice Band uniform, summa cum bass drum, in the parking lot of
Rice stadium, once the site of the Bluebonnet Bowl, before a football game with
When the band marched at football half-times, this uniform’s cap was augmented
with a sliver metallic plume that resembled nothing so much as a long, slender Brillo soap pad.
Unfortunately, no pictures of the infamous accouterment survive in my
collection. They are, however, possibly
visible behind President John F. Kennedy when, in 1961 at Rice Stadium, he gave
his famous “We Choose to Go to the Moon” speech. The “Why does Rice play
Texas?” phrase from that speech, at about 2:50 in the linked video, has always
resonated with Rice students, this writer included. :^)
In the spring of 1967 Chuck was appointed assistant drum
major of the Rice Owl Band, later known as the Marching Owl Band (Da MOB!). When band director Holmes McNeely retired at the end of the spring
semester, however, drum major Ron Placek, a senior
physics-electrical engineering. double major,
decided that he would rather not break in a new director in his senior year and
quite unexpectedly left Chuck the un-assisted drum major of the Rice band. The pictured
page from the program for the Rice
vs. Navy football game contains an article on the new director, Bert Roth,
and mentions the name “Marching Owl Band” for the first time in print. The somewhat oddly-posed picture of the
twirlers and drum major resulted when no uniform was available for the
newly-appointed outsized drum major.
(What’s new?) Chuck put on Placek’s two-sizes-too-small uniform coat which,
thankfully, buttoned up one side, and stood at the back of the twirler corps to
cover the fact that the coat wouldn’t begin to button and that he was wearing
jeans in lieu of uniform pants.
Some scrambling on the part of a band uniform company
representative from Houston
produced a very
usable uniform in fairly short order.
There was, however, one small problem.
The uniform looked fine when viewed from the front, but when viewed from
the back, it presented an uninterrupted sea of solid white to the viewers, who
most often were the Rice bandsmen behind Chuck in formation. References to “The Easter Bunny,” “Harvey,” (the six foot imaginary white
rabbit in the Jimmy Stewart movie Harvey
), and other indignities followed, including, at one point, a puffy
cotton tail loosely (too quickly) fastened in the appropriate anatomical area
with an unknown adhesive.
Despite the turnover of leadership, the Rice Band survived
the fall 1967 marching season. As usual,
bandsmen occasionally gathered for spoof half-time performances at powder-puff
football games between Rice’s Jones and Brown Residential
all-female. A script for the 1966
powder-puff half-time performance, written by the noted and notorious Rice
Owl Band Secretarial and Administrative Committee (ROBSAACo)
is available via this
link. As the years passed, spoof
scripts descended from these were developed into full-blown half-time shows for
NCAA football games. These were often
received with amusement, approval, and an occasional standing ovation (U.
Texas, 1973), but sometimes with catcalls, threats, and—at least once—physical
assault of a trombone player and unlawful detainment of the whole Rice MOB in
their own stadium for a number of hours after a football game (Texas A&M
Univ. at Rice, 1973) See these articles
for further information and entertainment: Rice MOB, The
Half-Time of Infamy, Rice University.
Unfortunately, though Chuck completed the 1967 marching season, he did not
survive the fall 1967 semester as a Rice student. Enrolled in 23 credit hours his first
sophomore semester, after having successfully completed 38 credit hours during
his freshman year, his overworked, overstressed, and under-rested body finally
said, “Enough’s enough,” and it was off to the hospital in early December with
a myriad of symptoms, but no diagnosis other than exhaustion. (Try telling that to your draft board.)
Fortunately, the University of Oklahoma’s spring semester began in early
January, 1968 and things had improved enough by then to get back in school and
get on with an OU engineering degree—plus or minus a bout with
mononucleosis—leaving behind a shattered dream of a Rice physics degree and a
concentration in Russian*.
Epilogue. Unwilling to risk another academic and
physical disaster, Chuck brought his avocational music career to an abrupt end,
to be resumed only briefly years later when daughter Carri, a percussionist
also, recruited him into OU’s Summer Band to ameliorate a decided dearth of
summer drummers. Oh, and there was a
two-year stint as ice and ice water-boy for the Norman North Band—a life-saving
task, as it turned out—when in 1998, the late-August 106°F (41° C) kickoff-time
temperatures mixed with wool-blend band uniforms to produce high heat-stroke
risk in the band, of all things. Only one person went to the hospital, but it
was Chuck’s Plymouth minivan, overloaded floor-to-roof and bumper-to-bumper
with ice bought from every 7-11 store in Moore and south Oklahoma City, that
saved a good many from the same fate.
Perhaps the uniform of the day should have been jeans and band
tee-shirts. (ya think?!)
* A thousand thanks go to the late Bert Roth, Rice Owl Band
director, and to Roy Jones, Rice Russian instructor, for assistance and
consideration during and after this very trying time.
Entire Website contents copyright © 2005-2007 Charles L.
Oates, except for 1966 La Airosa photographs that are
believed to be in the public domain