www.79thArmyBand.org - The Unofficial Website of Former Band Members 1964-1967
Some of you will recall a somewhat brash and obnoxious flute/piccolo player who led the internationally infamous team to escapades in Cucuta, probably ripped you off if you bought my snacks on the bus in Bolivia, and drank a lot of scotch off hours at the club during 1966 and 1967. Some things haven’t changed -- I still drink scotch!
To begin with, I was not the most receptive person to be commandeered by Uncle Sam but I remember it well -- President Johnson’s Tonkin Gulf speech on TV in 1965 made it pretty clear why 500,000 men would be conscripted immediately if not sooner and my number was up. I had been deferred as a school teacher and previously as a student until my graduation from Houghton College. I didn’t renew my teaching contract because I had plans to go to grad school full time in September but not being enrolled for summer school at Eastman as I had been earlier, gave my local draft board in upstate NY the window of opportunity they needed to nab me and I was pretty pissed off about that.
So to Ft. Dix NJ for basic training and not understanding expectations in the Army, I did reasonably well on the “exams” resulting as I recall in receiving an invitation to become an officer -- all I needed to do was sign up? Actually all I did was correctly answer that the screwdriver went with the screw (pictures of course) but since I turned down being an officer candidate, I was obviously helicopter mechanic qualified which is the MOS I received orders for out of basic. At that point, I went to the CO of the Dix post band to plead my case and he was able to get me reassigned to his unit -- but I had to play flute. On comp time, I made arrangements to audition for the West Point Band playing oboe and made it -- but once again there was this issue of enlisting. Here is where I encountered WO Ignacio for the first time and he had this plum reassignment available for me in PANAMA with the traveling 79th . He told me of course I could play oboe -- but I’d have to bring my own instrument -- yes I know, I should have seen it coming! But what the hell let’s have an adventure plus I wouldn’t have to do any more time so -- go for it. As it turned out, about the only oboe playing I got to do was on my own in Panama or the Canal Zone with friends of “Wally” Woodruff and Efrain “Pin” Castro who also played oboe in the National Symphony.
On the plane to Panama, I met Paul Hurley this John Deere tractor dude from IA who pretended to be a horn player and we became life-long friends. Paul became my survival companion then and for almost 40 years afterward we got together whenever we could -- the last several years it was our ritual to welcome the New Year whatever the temperature in my hot tub with a sufficient supply of scotch and cigars. Most of you may know that Paul died in October 2005 from cancer.
After I mustered out in 1967, I flew into DC on July 5th and was greeted by a fabulous evening view of the fireworks at the Washington Monument which had been rained out from the day before -- surely a good omen of better days to come. My playing and musicianship had deteriorated in the service and now I had to make some serious decisions if I could retrieve those skills and pursue my dream of grad school. I took a job teaching orchestra and strings in East Greenbush NY (near Albany) and fortunately had opportunities to start playing oboe seriously again in the Vermont State Symphony but more importantly I just fell into a job conducting the Northeastern NY Student Orchestra at Union College in Schenectady. The regular conductor was stricken with a serious illness (Bell’s Palsy) and I just happened to be available -- sometimes you just get lucky.
During the summer of 1968, the Rockefeller Foundation supported a music educator program focused on contemporary music performance and I was accepted to play oboe at the Teacher’s Performance Institute at Oberlin College. There I met Mary Johnson a violist from Omaha NE and William Bergsma a composer and Director of the UW School of Music from Seattle -- both of whom would have a profound impact on my career. Mary and I just celebrated our 40th Anniversary of married life together, and Bill was the key to helping me obtain a Rockefeller Foundation graduate assistantship to play with the Contemporary Group at the University of Washington.
Before going to Oberlin, I had been accepted for grad school at North Texas in Denton but after moving there and seeing the program, I changed my mind about attending and moved on to Omaha in pursuit of Mary and landed a bonus by becoming principal oboist of the Omaha Symphony.
The years in Seattle were mind boggling in several dimensions. UW was one of only a handful of schools at the time with a doctoral program in conducting and my mentor became Dr. Stanley Chapple the legendary British conductor who had been Koussevitsky’s assistant with the Boston Symphony and Leonard Bernstein’s teacher at Tanglewood . Additionally, I studied oboe with Laila Storch, oboist with the Soni Ventorum Wind Quintet and herself a student of Marcel Tabuteau the principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra whose pupils from Curtis held major orchestra positions. The Contemporary Group specialized in doing first performances and world premieres of works by active composers at the time -- some well known and others not. The technical and musical requirements to play some of this music bordered on the unplayable most of the time and yet we found a way to perform it -- inventing unorthodox fingerings to play quarter tones for example in John Eaton‘s amazing piece “Ajax“. During this time, Bob and Jeannie Blaurock became our companions for memorable trips camping on the Olympic peninsula, cruising to Victoria, and generally bumming around like the ’make love not war” generation. I also had brief visit with Stan Christie in Portland when the Contemporary Group was on tour and performed at a national music convention.
To abbreviate this saga , I’m just going to outline major career moves after leaving Seattle.
Cornell College, Mt Vernon IA where I conducted Orchestra and Wind Ensemble and played principal oboe in the Cedar Rapids Symphony and conducted the Cedar Rapids Youth Orchestra.
Five wonderful years in Great Falls MT where I was Music Director of the Great Falls Symphony and where our two children Melody and Eric were born.
University of Texas at Dallas where I founded and conducted the Greater Dallas Community Chamber Orchestra.
University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma where I chaired the Music/Drama Department and conducted musicals and played violin in the Lawton Philharmonic.
Then we moved to Chicago where I was Dean at the American Conservatory of Music and did some conducting and a little playing. During this time, I was accepted into the Executive MBA Program at the University of Chicago. For two solid years I hardly saw the light of day between rigorous academic studies and my administrative work which included NASM and IL state accreditation and the Conservatory filing for bankruptcy and successfully emerging for an historic centennial celebration. I was also one of about 60 senior administrators selected nationally to participate in the Institute for Educational Management at Harvard.
Our last year (1989) in Chicago, I commuted to Western Illinois University where I taught business classes and decided to retire from music administration. Since 1990, we’ve lived in Sioux Falls SD where I taught at Augustana College and ventured into business owning/operating and later selling a resort at Lake Poinsett. Mary and I are retired (?) but continue with our musical activities. For 15 years I have reverted to my childhood and conducted a youth orchestra which is now part of the South Dakota Symphony organization and since 2000, I have been Director of the Sioux Emperians Barbershop Chorus.
What a hoot when I remember the Army days of the “chorus” from the 79th entertaining command performances at Gen. Alger’s parties! At least I try to get my guys to sing with some sense of being in tune and not just “beller out” a song -- “louder dammit“! Graciously that’s all history and we’ve passed a lot of water since -- some of it on an Army shirt at Amador!
In summary, my Army experience was a mixed blessing -- who knows what my career path may have taken without it? But with it, I was able to obtain graduate degrees, had opportunities to visit exotic places (who could forget Bolivia?) and perhaps most importantly, made friends who shared that time in my life. I'm looking forward to our reunion -- whenever -- wherever.
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