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Confessions of an Accidental Band Director

by

Bill Tune

bctune@gmail.com

As an awkward, socially retarded teenager, band was my world in high school.  In fact, music has been an important part of my life as long as I can remember.  My older sister was in high school band when I was in late elementary school, so my goal was to follow in her footsteps.


My Dad, a Methodist minister, was a gifted musician and was especially proficient on the piano, so I was raised with a piano in my home, a Cable-Nelson purchased in Lubbock, TX in about 1955.  In fact, the piano I was raised with now sits in my living room, and I play it often.  I still find it difficult to believe that while this instrument has been in my home for 35 years now, it was in my parents’ home for just 22.  My sister had taken piano lessons when she was in elementary school, but by the time I reached that age the family was on hard times financially, so no lessons for me.  Not to be deterred, I used the basic lessons from my 5th grade music class plus my sister’s old piano books to teach myself.  To this day I blame my pianistic deficiencies on my “poor teaching”.  I went from playing “Hot Cross Buns” in my sister’s primers to attempting “What A Friend We Have in Jesus” out of the hymnal.  It was an excruciatingly painful process (for my family), but I eventually was able to play these hymns at church.


But back to the band (1963): In Lamesa, Texas, beginner band was the last few months of the sixth grade year.  I eagerly signed up, and was assigned a school-owned instrument (baritone) since we couldn’t afford to purchase one.  I loved it and did well.  Then in June we moved to a small school just outside Lubbock that had not played football since World War II.  That meant no band.  I spent my 2 years in junior high singing in the choir.  Before my freshman year we moved to Andrews, and I got to start band again.  (Ironically, the school I left started a football program while we were there and started a band program the year I left.)  Andrews was desperate for trombone players, which is similar to the baritone, but most trombone players own their own instrument.  No problem for this school!  They found me a school horn to play, and I spent the next 10 years of my life specializing in the art of trombone playing.


I eventually ended up playing my trombone in the Longhorn Band at UT, one of the highlights of my life.  Not only did I enjoy the many trips and form lasting friendships, but I also met my future wife!  I went to UT because it had a good reputation as an engineering school, but after a couple of years, it became apparent to me that my major was “Longhorn Band”, so I switched majors to Music Ed.  This allowed me to cram 4 years of education into 6.  I finished UT with 222 hours of credit and only a bachelor’s degree, but I had a license to learn how to become a high school band director!


This was the mid-70’s and most bands back then were military style, and that’s what I was trained to do. Unfortunately, the predominant style of marching bands at this time was switching rapidly to the more-appealing (depending upon whom you ask) drum and bugle corps.  Thus, after suffering through an endless progression of step-2 drills, my little Thrall HS band and I learned the new style with some degree of success – eventually.  I was at Thrall for 8 years and loved it there.  Having moved frequently all my life, it was gratifying to stay somewhere long enough to watch kids grow up.  I saw my first 5th –grade beginner band students graduate from high school.  I had strong administrative support, a good relationship with the other faculty, and great students and parents to work with.  We had some significant success during my last four years and to this day those students are proud of what we accomplished.  (I know this because of Facebook.)


As good as I had it, though, I had an itch to see what I could do elsewhere and in 1983 my wife, 4-year old son, and I moved to Caldwell, a AAA school about 55 miles away.  My four years there were very stressful, starting with the first year when I lost my assistant at the beginning of the year and had to run a band program with 3 bands (beginner, junior high, & high school) on 3 different campuses.  The 2nd year was better with an assistant, but the 3rd year was the first year of No Pass-No Play and my program suffered devastating losses to the new rule.  Apparently my students were not all that motivated to pass all their classes.  This was a major contributing factor to my burn out as a band director.


I am not by nature a competitive person.  My wife doesn’t like to play tennis with me because I don’t mind losing, and that takes all the fun out of it for her.  However, as a band director, I had to be competitive in order to motivate the kids.  UIL competition is the standard measuring stick of our school music programs, and I fully participated in an effort to get the most out of my students.  I even finished a Master’s Degree in Music Education during this time in hopes that it would rejuvenate my desire to direct bands.


For whatever reason, I seemed to connect with the kids less and less until I realized that I was trying way too hard to make them better than they wanted to be.  My primary goal was to give them something to be proud of, and that became harder and harder to do.  It was time for a change.  I never regretted becoming a band director and wouldn’t trade those 12 years for anything.  I had a lot of good memories of competitions and concerts that went well, and I was blessed to work with a lot of great students and faculty.  But I couldn’t motivate myself any more, much less the students.  To make matters worse, the legislature was arguing over teacher salaries that were plastered all over the newspapers and then they sent a teacher into space and blew her up.  I needed to get out of education – forever.


“Forever” lasted for almost a year.  I finally remembered my earlier love of mathematics. I had explored many other options with no luck, but once I started pursuing a certification in secondary mathematics, doors quickly opened for me.  I registered for the needed classes at nearby Texas A&M, qualified for financial aide, and even got a job in a nearby town, Somerville, who needed a math teacher.  One administrator was also interested in my band directing experience, but I assured him I was not interested in that position.


I had a great 12 years in Somerville, teaching math, moving into a technology coordinator’s position, and watching a true pied piper of youth, Carl Idlebird, transform a historically weak band program into one of the top AA band programs in the state.  What made this transformation especially gratifying was that my son got to be a part of it.


Then God threw me a curve.  He called my wife into the ministry, and with her graduation from seminary in 2000, it was once again time to “take my show on the road.”


Our first stop on her ministry tour was Palestine, Texas. I started looking for a job similar to the technology coordinating position I had in Somerville.  One of the schools where I applied noticed my band background and asked if I would be interested in a position as band director.  I carefully considered this request for .5 seconds, then politely, but emphatically said, “No!”  However, school technology in east Texas was not the priority it was in central Texas, so when Westwood ISD approached me with an alternative position, I listened.  They had a high school band director who was very successful, but he needed help with the 7th and 8th grade bands in junior high.  I was offered a position of ½ time band director and ½ time technology coordinator.  I found this strangely appealing.  I still enjoyed working with kids and making music.  I wouldn’t have to deal with the hassles of high school band: half-time shows, endless weekend contests, and twirler moms.  In early July I accepted this position.  In late July the high school director left for another school.  August 1st the leaders of the high school band asked if I could help them start summer band because the administration wouldn’t allow them to practice without supervision.


That’s how I accidentally became a high school band director once again.  The technology part of the job was forgotten, it was “too late” to hire a new assistant, so I once again found myself in sole charge of a AAA band program with bands on 3 campuses.  It was a tough year, but the kids were really exceptional and I will be forever grateful for the experience of working with them.  Bands in this area still marched in the military style, which I learned in college, so I got to use drills that I had long since forgotten.  It was fun – sort of.


They hired me an assistant for me the second year, but by the end of the second year I could not escape the fact that I lacked the passion needed by a good band director.  Mercifully, they allowed me to teach all the geometry classes the next year, promoted my assistant, and hired him an assistant.  So it all worked out.  After the 3rd year, my wife was moved to Conroe where I was able to finish the last 5 years of my career in education as a high school math teacher at Conroe High School.


I’m glad I was a band director for 14 years, but I must confess: I don’t miss it!


This paper is already too long, so I can’t go into any of the many stories I could tell about my time as a band director.  Maybe next time.

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