I hope this note finds you well.
I did not come from a musical family. Our regular sources of music were the radio on Friday and Saturday night and church on Sunday. On the radio, we heard the Louisiana Hayride on Friday night and the Grand Ol’ Opry on Saturday night. On Sunday, church music added a counterpoint to the honky-tonk and country we heard on the radio. Generally, most of the church music we heard was uplifting and fun.
When I was in the fourth grade in Augusta, Arkansas, we were given the option of going out for band. For several weeks, the high school band director came across town (about six blocks) to size up the new group of budding virtuosi. We were encouraged to pick an instrument and give it a try. I choose the cornet. For the first couple of years, that same band director tutored us. In the sixth grade, we moved to the high school and began playing with the school band.
The band was quite small, at the most 24–25 players, including junior high and high school. During football season, we always had a marching band and spent inordinate amounts of time perfecting drills and reasonably precise formations. By the time we were in the seventh grade, the pecking order had been established. In the small ensemble band, two of my friends were the pick of the litter. The band directors had tried for several years to find a place for me.
The final straw was when the director suggested I might want to move over to the baritone. At that point I could see the writing on the wall. There were younger kids, who were better than I was, and they needed to move up; I was sort of in the way. And so it was, after five years of brass instrument training, I gave up the band and went out for football.
From my time in band, I learned several important lessons:
I learned to love pretty, soulful, intricate music.
I was taught to read music and a modest amount of music theory. This instilled in me the understanding that music is lyrical mathematics. The clear voice of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata has stirred me since I first heard it.
Playing music in the band requires self-discipline; it takes work and practice every day.
Playing or marching in a band requires teamwork.
Several years ago I had the privilege to help produce a musical play at the Royal Theater, and after sixty-plus years, I decided that I wanted to learn to play the guitar. I have used the knowledge I learned in that small high school band. Each day I put in an hour of practice, and it isn’t drudgery: it is fun. Sometimes, I get to play music with my bluegrass friends; it takes a team to make music and not noise.
So, when you go to Salt Bowl this fall, remember there are any number of teams on the field: the two football teams, the Pep squads and cheerleaders and bands. All of these kids are learning lessons that will stay with them the rest of their lives.
Have a good journey,
Dr. Sam Taggart is a retired doctor/writer/marathon runner in practice in Benton for the last 45 years. He recently released Country Doctors of Arkansas, published by the Arkansas Times. His other books, The Public’s Health: A narrative history of health and disease in Arkansas, With a Heavy Heart and We All Hear Voices are available at your local booksellers or online at amazon.com.