4:11pm

Fri July 16, 2010
Commentaries

Commentary: Back on the stage, 35 years later

HANNIBAL, NY – Steely Dan may have sung about "never going back to my old school", but commentator Dave Bullard went back recently. He got back on the stage where some of his best high school memories took place.

You can join our roster of occasional commentators. E-mail Dave at dave@wrvo.fm for details.

Dave's script is below:

I AM JUST RECOVERING FROM A CASE OF THE NERVES.

A FEW WEEKS BACK, I STEPPED ONTO THE STAGE AT MY OLD HIGH SCHOOL AND PERFORMED WITH THE HIGH SCHOOL BAND.

I WAS ONE OF SEVERAL GRADS TO PICK UP THEIR INSTRUMENTS AND SIT IN.

SCHOOL BANDS HOLD END-OF-YEAR CONCERTS, BUT MY OLD SCHOOL, HANNIBAL, HAS, IN RECENT YEARS, INVITED ALUMS TO JOIN IN FOR THE LAST COUPLE OF SONGS.

WHEN I HEARD ABOUT THE CONCERT, I ASKED THE BAND DIRECTOR IF I COULD JOIN IN, AND SHE SAID YES.

I WAS EXCITED. FOR ABOUT FIVE MINUTES. THEN I STARTED TO WORRY. AND I'M NOT THE WORRYING KIND.

I SPENT A LOT OF TIME ON THAT STAGE AS A STUDENT. AND MUSIC WAS THE BEST PART OF A VERY GOOD EDUCATION THERE.

OUR JUNIOR HIGH AND HIGH SCHOOL BANDS WERE EXCELLENT. THE JUNIOR HIGH BAND WON A REGIONAL COMPETITION AND OUR SENIOR BAND PLAYED LEVEL SIX MATERIAL FROM SHOSTAKOVICH AND NEHLYBEL - RUSSIAN CHRISTMAS MUSIC AND FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN - BROADWAY AND MARCHES.

WE EVEN HAD A DIXIELAND SEXTET, BECAUSE A FEW OF US LIKED THE MUSIC. OUR BAND DIRECTOR NOTICED THE INTEREST AND WENT OUT AND BOUGHT US THE MUSIC WE NEEDED.

WE HELD OUR OWN AGAINST GROUPS FROM MUCH LARGER AND BETTER FUNDED SCHOOLS. A FEW OF US HAVE MADE CAREERS IN MUSIC.

I WAS IN THE PERCUSSION SECTION - A DRUMMER WHO KEPT FINISHING SECOND FOR SECTION LEADER BECAUSE I WOULDN'T PRACTICE MY RUDIMENTS, AND WHO STRUGGLED WITH TYMPANI AND BELLS BECAUSE I COULDN'T READ MUSIC OTHER THAN THE PERMANENT C LINE OF THE SNARE DRUM.

MY BEST WORK WAS ON THE DRUM SET, WHEN I COULD IGNORE THE MUSIC AND PLAY WHAT I FELT WITH THE DIXIELAND COMBO.

AND FOR DECADES, THAT'S WHAT I'VE DONE. PLAYED IN BANDS WITHOUT MUSIC, PLAYING BY FEEL AND BY MY MEMORY OF THE SONG ON THE RADIO. IT'S THE WAY MY FATHER - WHO COULD NOT READ ANY SHEET MUSIC - TAUGHT ME.

SO THE CONCERT BAND DATE IS APPROACHING AND I AM GETTING ANTSY. IN THE DECADES SINCE I LEFT SCHOOL, I HAVE PLAYED FROM SHEET MUSIC JUST ONCE. LET'S SAY IT WENT - POORLY.

I FILLED IN WITH A COMMUNITY BAND FOR A DRUMMER WHO COULDN'T BE THERE. IT MIGHT HAVE GONE BETTER IF I HAD BROUGHT ALONG THE BASS DRUM PEDAL, BUT NOT MUCH BETTER. I HAVEN'T BEEN ASKED BACK, IF THAT MEANS ANYTHING.

IT IS CONCERT NIGHT. I MEET THE YOUNG FOLKS IN THE PERCUSSION SECTION. THEY SEEM NICE AND ARE WILLING TO TOLERATE THE OLD GUY.

WE HAVE TWO SONGS TO PLAY. A MEDLEY OF BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN SONGS WHICH I FIND FUNNY, AND JOHN PHILIP SOUZA'S LIBERTY BELL MARCH, WHICH I FIND EVEN FUNNIER BECAUSE IT'S ALSO THE THEME SONG TO THE ABSURD MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS.

I HAVE PRACTICED BOTH OF THESE AT HOME - THE BAND DIRECTOR PROVIDED THE SHEET MUSIC AHEAD OF TIME.

BUT WHEN SHE RAISES HER BATON TO START, MY ADRENALINE LEVEL RISES TO THE JITTER LEVEL. I NOTICE I AM FULLY ALERT AND INTENSE.

WE BEGIN, AND ALMOST IMMEDIATELY, I FLUFF THE OPENING BARS. THE REST OF THE SPRINGSTEEN MEDLEY GOES WELL ENOUGH, THOUGH I NOTICE THAT I AND THE YOUNG MAN WHO IS ALSO PLAYING SNARE DRUM - WE ARE JUST A HAIRSBREADTH OFF OF EACH OTHER. WE ALMOST SOUND LIKE A FLAM. I CAN'T TELL WHO'S AHEAD OR BEHIND.

SOUZA - A FAIRLY STRAIGHTFORWARD MARCH. WE START ON TIME, WE END ON TIME. IT GOES WELL ENOUGH.

AND IT'S OVER.

IT WENT SO QUICKLY THAT I DIDN'T HAVE TIME TO ENJOY IT, TO LOOK AROUND AT THE STAGE THAT HAS BARELY CHANGED SINCE 1976, WHEN I LAST PLAYED HERE.

IN THE MOMENTS AFTER, IT BROUGHT BACK SOME MEMORIES. THERE'S THE DOOR WHERE MR. SCHULDT, OUR LEADER, HAD HIS OFFICE. THE JUNIOR HIGH BAND OFFICE WAS OVER THERE. PLAYING IN ALL-COUNTIES, OUR BASS DRUMMER GETTING DRUNK BEFORE A FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE AND HANGING ONTO THE DRUM FOR DEAR LIFE, HIS LEGS SPLAYED OUT UNDER HIM LIKE A NEWBORN CALF, PLAYING DIXIELAND ON THE BACK OF A FLOAT IN THE FIREMAN'S FIELD DAYS PARADE, BLACK AND WHITE SUITS FOR CONCERTS, HEAVY WOOL MARCHING BAND UNIFORMS FOR OUR ONE MARCH PER YEAR.

AND IT WAS GREAT TO HEAR THAT MY SCHOOL'S BAND STILL SOUNDS EXCELLENT. THEY'VE SUFFERED BUDGET CUTS - NEXT YEAR, BAND WON'T BEGIN TILL SIXTH GRADE. I STARTED IN FOURTH GRADE. THEY HANDLED HARD PIECES WELL. I KNOW THAT SOMETHING THAT WAS IMPORTANT TO ME IS ALSO IMPORTANT TO THE YOUNG FOLKS ON THAT STAGE AND WHEN THEY'RE MY AGE, I HOPE THEY'LL HAVE THE CHANCE TO GET BACK ON STAGE, FEEL THE ANXIETY, SEE THE RUSH OF OLD MEMORIES, AND REDISCOVER ONE OF THE BEST THINGS ABOUT BEING IN SCHOOL.