December 27, 2017

FTV: Tatler 1969


    What began as an innocent swamping out of our linen closet turned into an adventure when I discovered the long missing high school annuals from my days at Marquette Senior High.  The summary from my freshman year was kind of fun and it was surprising how many little details popped into my head perusing the photos and inscriptions.  With that said, it is time to forge ahead and explore events from the dreaded sophomore year.

    One of the first things I looked up were the bands that had played dances that year.  When I flipped to that section, I found it marked with my old American Federation of Musicians union card even though we didn’t actually join the union until the summer after our junior year.  The ‘AFof M Local 213’ appears in all previous FTV columns that address these early gigging days, but this has been a faulty memory item.  Much to my chagrin, the card proclaims that we were actually members of Local 218 – oops.  Nevertheless, the bands that would be our brothers-in-arms when we did join up included the 1969 Detention Hour, The French Church, and the Zanzibar Exchange.  Kathy Fure and her guitar made an appearance at the annual talent show (she will later become better known as folksinger Tret Fure). The band booked for more formal events like the Christmas dance and the Prom were called 4 Degrees North, but this band was not comprised of MSHS students.  

    The Twig wasn’t on the radar yet, but the seed would be planted in the spring when Gene, Mike, and I were all involved in the drama club’s production of Bye Bye Birdie.  Gene was doing set work, Mike played guitar on stage during some of Conrad Birdie’s big numbers and I was ensconced in the pit orchestra.  Sadly, no pictures of musicians were included in the yearbook, but chorus teacher Bill Saari is shown directing the Birdie orchestra while band director Joe Patterson added his violin playing to the ensemble.  There were some informal jams taking place before rehearsals at the Kaufman Auditorium that led the bass player from the orchestra, Ron Caviani, Mike, and myself being drafted as the house band (supporting a rotating cast of singers) for the cast party when the show wrapped up.  We got Gene into the discussion and determined that if we were going to have a band, we had better start rehearsing.  Although we wouldn’t be The Twig until the next summer, we dug in and started meeting weekly in my basement and set a goal of “playing real gigs for money” during our senior year.

    The high school band photo pages show our former freshman core of five drummers still together with the addition of junior Eric Storedahl and new freshmen Sara McKee and Jim Soderberg.  Director Patterson had anointed me section leader (showing that it paid to take summer drum lessons all during my Junior High years) but Jim and I became best buds and spent the next three years working as co-section leaders.  Jim had a background in Drum Corps so it was my sworn duty to teach him the intricacies of ‘faking’ drum parts.  I was never a very good rudimental drummer (certain strokes or rudiments are supposed to be played a certain way and not using the ‘proper’ sticking technique is referred to as ‘faking’) but I could pretty much sight read any piece of drum music as long as I could ‘stick it’ my way.  Jim’s background was rooted in the more rudimentary ‘drum corps’ method, but over time, he also became very adept at playing drum parts that sounded right even if they might not have been rudimentarily correct.  

    The picture of Mr. Patterson directing the pep band is kind of bittersweet because he passed away in the spring not long after we had wrapped Bye Bye Birdie.  When the Bishop Baraga High School basketball team won the State Class D basketball title (in the last year the school was open),  we were asked to march from Fair Avenue south along Third Street and then back up Front Street for a welcome home rally that was planned for Graveraet School’s gym (which apparently had more room than Baraga’s own home gym).  A block into the parade, Mr. Patterson handed me his whistle and said, “I can’t walk that far so every block, blow the whistle, do the roll off and the band will play the next song.  Wait a block and do it again.”  We happened to finish one march as we came to the top of the hill where Third Street drops down to Washington Street.  Jim rightly reminded me that I probably shouldn’t blow the whistle until we made the turn on to the main street.  What we hadn’t counted on was playing in the multi-story buildings in the 100 block of Washington Street was like playing in a canyon with the sound bouncing back to the band in waves and echoes.  The trumpet players were about to beat me up until I reminded them that I could also blow the whistle as we climbed the two blocks of Front Street heading for Graveraet.  I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but whatever was ailing “Joe P” was already affecting him and a few weeks later he was gone.   

    One of the comments written on the band’s yearbook page came from fellow sophomore Maggie who said, “I don’t know how you’re going to manage next year without me, but I’ll be watching and you better be good.”  I hadn’t realized Maggie wasn’t going to continue in band Junior year and I hoped it had nothing to do with section tryouts.  Early in the year, Mr. Patterson had us sight read a drum piece and he announced that I would be the section leader which apparently didn’t sit too well with Maggie.  Maggie was a much better rudimentary drummer that I was, but she would have to practice new pieces for some time to get the sticking right.  The sight reading was her undoing in the tryouts.  When Mr. P passed away, Bill Saari took over for the rest of the year (which turned into a permanent position for him by the next round of summer band).  Bill wanted to get a handle on his new charges so he had sectional tryouts to see what we could do.  I am not sure how much drum training he had, but once again, the sight reading we did for tryouts confirmed the established order (though we did clue him that Jim and I were sharing the duties as co-first chair section leaders).  

    Maggie expressed her frustration openly for the first time, but I was still surprised that she didn’t return to band.  We had a good section and operated as a pretty well oiled machine.  I had put in the time and defended my first chair position, but I can also understand why this irked Maggie.  She couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that she was the better drummer, yet she couldn’t crash the party because the band director put so much emphasis on sight reading.  This is a lesson that took a while to sink in but empathy wasn’t one of my strong points at 15 going on 16.  Losing Mr. Patterson (who I had taken drum lessons with since fifth grade) was a downer but the impact it made on me personally wasn’t so obvious until the next year as we adjusted to a new director with his own ideas.

    The end of the year commentary contained many of the tried and true catch phrases:  “Take it easy on the girls,” “have a good summer, see you next year,” and so on.  Some were a tad more specific:  Art wrote, “To the kid like me who had to suffer through English class.  Take it easy you uncoordinated baseball bum.”  Ed chimed in with, “Raisininski, To (sic) bad you were in my Biology & Geometry class, that spoiled all my fun.”  Wayne’s entry was a little disturbing: “May the bird of paradise get its wings caught in the pages of this book,” but so was Beth’s advice to, “Stay our of jail this summer, especially the one at the college.  Good luck.”  I must confess that this last one confuses me greatly because it doesn’t ring any bells as to what it means.

    Jackie mentioned that we, “finally got out of Robert’s class alive” but the truth was, Geometry was one of the best math classes I have ever had so for me it was more like,”Rats, back to Algebra next year.”  The bird of paradise reappeared when Rich blessed me with, “May the bird of paradise keep the strings of your snare drum tight.”  Trumpeter Mike Parks may have hit it on the head commenting, “Our little drummer boy seems to be doing alright this year.  Without all that faking, you never would have made it!  Well anyway, good luck.”

    Having made one furtive attempt at having a girlfriend did not go unnoticed as I received advice from several sources.  My eclectic, baritone playing band buddy Nick Gorski wrote, “Wait ‘til summer hoo-hah.  Hang in there, don’t blow your cool, there is someone out there, don’t fret.”  His girlfriend, Fran, chimed in with, “You are so dumb when it comes to girls that it’s simply pathetic.  If you need any advice, just ask me or what’s his name.  I hope you hurry up and find a girlfriend (you’re not as bad as we all make you out to be).”  Just to heap it on, Betty chimed in with her support of Fran’s comments and my guitar buddy Gene added, “Kene (sic) – I agree with Fran and you also are a terrible drummer.  We might get a group going yet.  Best of luck and all usual junk.”

    Not all my friends dumped on me at the end of the year.  Drummer buddy Jim’s take consisted of, “All these years I’ve wondered about you but now!  Boy have you got talent, I won’t say for what, but take my word for it.  Goodbye, or hello??”  Jim’s girlfriend Debbie explained the whole year in a nutshell:  “I even forgive you for the little lovely you wrote in my Tatler (ed note:  I haven’t a clue what it was) and why don’t you behave yourself, just for kicks?  But you are a really great kid (when you’re not being nasty) and I really am sorry about some things which have happened (whose mentioning any names?) so just shape up and find somebody to go with and with my luck, I will see you a lot.  P.S. – You’re a great kid, even for a sophomore, but heaven help the juniors!”  I should add that Debbie took a lot of ribbing because she kept an extra pair of shoes and some books in our drum equipment cabinet.  It was there that I first laid eyes on The Hobbit which she loaned me to be followed by the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.  We took to calling her ‘The Hobbit’ even though she wasn’t that short (well, maybe), but that is how she signed things from that point on.  I don’t think I ever thanked her for getting me interested in Tolkien, but I should have!

    Two other little surprises awaited me in the pages of 1969:  A postcard and a letter that Jim had sent me when his family was on the road out west on vacation.  The letter was posted from Albert Lea, Minnesota on July 15, 1969.  It must have arrived on July 20 as I had written, “Moon landing 4:17:40* Armstrong & Aldrin – LEM / Collins – CM”.  It is no small wonder that I teach a hefty dose of Astronomy and Space Science in my classes.  That envelope was a pretty good exclamation point to wrap up the 1968-69 school campaign as we chilled and waited for summer band to mark the official beginning of our junior year.  (Science teacher note: *Officially, the landing time was 3:17:40 EST – the discrepancy here being the adjustment for DST which some areas did not observe at that time).


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