A Thank You…28 Years In The Making

There are things that happen for a reason.  When each event occurs rarely is one aware of the specific reason for the situation to unfold the way it does.  However, during the last four years I have become a little more aware of such moments, but only in the belief that there is a reason behind them.  I do not know what they ultimately mean, but I am aware that at some point I will come to fully understand why they occurred.

I do not mean to pull you along a metaphysical journey, nor one of spiritual belief.  That’s far too personal for me to EVER blog about.  What I will do, if you, the Reader, will indulge me, is to take you back to the fall of 1986 on the campus of UMASS/Amherst, where a young freshman mellophone player would eventually be the reason why the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band has been as successful as it has been these last 20 years.

Before we use the Wayback Machine permit me to explain a bit more…

Lately I have been blathering on about “knowing where you came from,” “understanding your past so you can live for the future,” respecting and honoring those who came before,” etc. I have gone on and on about such topics because for me they are what gives our lives substance, purpose and meaning.  Without the past we have no idea where the future will take us.  Without the past we have no foundation upon which to stand. Without the past we are merely living for the moment with no support upon which to lean should we ever need it.  Without the past our existence would be very empty.

Each summer I spend 8 – 9 weeks on the road teaching workshops for the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy®.  I have done this for the last 30 summers.  Each workshop brings with it a chance to delve deeper into the “WHY” and the “HOW.”  I have been teaching the “WHAT” for so long that it is merely the vehicle I use in which to understand MORE.  With each workshop the material passes through a new filter in my mind.  The filter is new because life experiences change how you view things.

My dear friend Timmy (that would be Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser to everyone else), who is also one of three men I’ve chosen during my life to be my brother, likes to say it this way: “Sometimes someone says the same thing they’ve said for years but there is a new wrinkle that is ever so slight and it make me go A-HA!”

This summer was a major A-HA moment for me and why I choose to write this particular blog entry.

DMA is still DMA…even without George. While it continues to evolve just as it did workshop to workshop when George was still with us, some big ticket items remain in place.  One of those is the ATTITUDE SESSION.  Sure some stories have changed but remember, the stories have always been just the vehicles used to teach each lesson.  This summer I was in the middle of ATTITUDE at EKU in Richmond, Kentucky when I suddenly expanded upon a particular lesson.  The lesson was “There are four things you can do in an unpleasant situation,” and it was number 1 that sparked a new story for me — “#1: Change it.”

(Enter the Wayback Machine with me as we journey back to 1986….Band Camp with the UMMB.)

  • 1986 – 

A cocky graduate student (me) who decided to break all the rules and still be in marching band, is one of two people left on the field after a full band march off.  My opponent: a freshman mellophone player named Jennifer Boltz. She is just as cocky as I am and I would be damned if I let her beat me!  …but she did…so I suppose I’m damned.  …two words: Oh Well.

I do not remember much about Jennifer during 1986 – 1988.  I was working on my master’s in trumpet performance and she was an undergraduate music education major.  I’m sure she has her own tales to tell but my memories of college and time in the UMMB have long since faded with only snapshot images of moments that hold special meaning for me.  What I do recall is the spring of 1988 and Jennifer’s audition for Drum Major of the UMMB.  I do not recall the actual audition but I recall her getting the position…my position.  My successor had been named.

  • 1988 – 

George and I were having a fight as usual (someone hold Trish Cornett please) and we were not speaking.  At some point mid-fall Jeanne Parks called me and asked when I planned to come up and see the band. I told her I had no intention of doing so. In short, she said she thought the two of us (George and I) were being idiots and that I needed to get past that and come up to see the band–it was amazing!  So I did…I drove up despite not speaking to my best friend and when the UMMB finished the opening fanfare of “Festive Overture” I had been reduced to tears!  They were amazing.  They were big and they were powerful, and I was shocked and simultaneously amazed at how impressive they were.  And there was that mellophone player on the podium: Jennifer Boltz.

  • 1989 –

Time for me to write for the UMMB again…and they were BIG!  Well over 300 members….what does one do with all those dots?!?!  Jennifer was back on the podium again.  This, of course, meant nothing to me. I was happy she was being successful and I hoped she was enjoying it as much as I did.  That was about it.  The band was incredible…I was a high school band director (first professional goal achieved)…George and I were speaking again (whoever is holding Trish may now let go). But a question lingered in my mind for the next few years: how did the band get so big so fast when it was stuck in the low 200s for so many, many years?

  • (Fast forward to 1993….”Building Power and Class”)

A documentary was made about the UMASS Minuteman Marching Band and there is a moment when filming is done in the McGuirk Stadium Pressbox of the Boltz sisters.  Jennifer is there and she talks about changing how the band welcomes the freshmen.  She talks about how when she was a freshman she did not feel very welcomed. She talks about the “suitcase thing” and how it was not any big deal but that because it WELCOMED the incoming band members in such a positive way, the band enrollment went from 200 to 300+ overnight.

“There are four things you can do in an unpleasant situation.  #1 – Change It.”  And Jennifer did just that the summer of 1988 for the UMMB.  The field staff was hanging out in the staff room of Old Chapel and just getting into trouble.  She thought if they would go unload the cars of the rookies during check in she could get them out of Old Chapel and they would be doing something positive for the band.  This simple, no nonsense, “fix the immediate problem” idea began a snowball effect that I am quite sure Jennifer had no idea would occur.  The freshmen were welcomed into the band…upperclassmen moved each one of them into their dorms for band camp and the freshmen felt wanted and needed. And BAM! The Minuteman Marching Band of UMASS became HUGE!

  • (Fast Forward to 1995…on the campus of the University of Delaware)

A new band director (me) gets appointed to the UDMB and the task before me is a little overwhelming.  Fortunately the majority of the senior class is hungry, perhaps they are ravenous for something new.  After teaching high school for a few years and being the Associate Director of Bands at Temple University for a few years, and spending my summers playing Tonto to George’s Lone Ranger, I knew enough to be completely and totally petrified at the prospect of being the head band director of a major university marching band.  Fortunately I also had learned that one makes small changes and takes their time molding a program into their vision (a vision that changes as much as the DMA “WHY” changes workshop to workshop!).

The first thing I instituted was “the suitcase thing.”  The Field Staff would move the rookies into their dorms; the Field Staff would do so with a smile on their faces; the Field Staff would love it…period.  In 1995 the UDMB numbered 147 members.  In 1998 the UDMB numbered 300 members.  Since 1998 the UDMB has had an annual average membership of 320.

All of this is due to a young mellophone player turned Drum Major of the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band named Jennifer Boltz.

Thank you Jen.  A momentary blip on the radar screen of reason allowed me to connect all the dots for the first time this summer.  If you had not done what you did I would not be where I am today.  You are now a DMA story…George would be proud!

And so we come full circle my friends: everything happens for a reason.  We may not know the reason at the time but if we are patient, one day the reason will be revealed.

(…I suppose I could have just said thank you at the start of this missive, but when have I ever not taken advantage of telling a story in order to teach a lesson?!  So get ready to move those rookies into their dorms UDMB FIELD STAFF–time to make the BAND!)

Advertisements