Life father, like son? Two generations of brass band players

Rick Wagner • Updated Nov 29, 2017 at 1:38 PM

KINGSPORT — When it comes to folks who were in high school band and then grow up and have kids, sometimes the apple doesn’t fall far too far from the tree. A case in point is my older son, but a little background on my band experience first.

My band background

I grew up in the large metropolis of Surgoinsville (think Mayberry with a touch of Hooterville) and from seventh through 10th grades attended Surgoinsville High School. After the merger of Church Hill and Surgoinsville high schools into Volunteer, I finished my 11th and 12th grade years there and then went on to a five-year career getting a four-year degree in news-editorial journalism at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

I began band in fifth grade at Surgoinsville Elementary School with the tuba and stayed with it and the sousaphone (a marching-friendly version of the tuba) all the way through high school. (I also played guitar and a little electric bass, but that’s another story.) We’d walk over to the high school to have band class with Jim Hageman, who also was the high school band director. We marched in parades, played for school and public concerts and took trips. In seventh grade, we moved into the high school building, and in eighth grade we became members of the high school band. We got to go to Walt Disney Disney World in Florida to march on Main Street USA when I was in eighth grade, and I rode my first roller coaster, Space Mountain. We also did marching band competitions.

Changes and a gunman came our way

My freshman year, we had a director change to Patricia Rhoten. Hageman left education for a career in vehicle sales, and the band with the new director left in the spring of 1979 for San Antonio, Texas, to participate in the Festival of Lights. However, after raising money for more than a year, when we got there a man with mental issues began shooting at bands in a daytime parade. No parade participants or bystanders were seriously injured, but police snipers killed the gunman. In addition, our drum major had a bad stomach bug. Because of that coupled with safety concerns from parents, our director decided we wouldn’t march in the night parade, where we were supposed to light up our instruments with flashlights and such.

I’ll never forget we got to ride a chartered bus right by where the external shots for the “Dallas” television show were made. Many of us, me included, bought cowboy hats on the trip. I also lost my sunglasses off the top of a “space needle” type building, and we got to see the Alamo. 

Once, after a football game in the late 1970s, I also lost my sousaphone mouthpiece, so Rhoten got me a black bag so I wouldn’t lose it. I did one better: I lost the bag with the mouthpiece in it.

When Rhoten left, Hageman returned midway through my sophomore year after deciding that band directing and education, not car selling, was his preferred career. However, in  the fall of 1980, Tom Bowers, Church Hill High alumnus and band director, became our director at Volunteer, and Hagemen became band director at Cherokee High. At Volunteer, starting a new program, we still were about 90 to 100 students and took some trips and did competitions. We had homemade band uniforms the first year, and I graduated in 1982.

My son’s band experiences: past, present and near future 

Fast-forward to more modern times when my son Jonathan began band at Robinson Middle School in sixth grade, playing the trumpet under director Kimberly Hutchinson.

He progressed to Dobyns-Bennett as a freshman and participated in football marching and concert band, under director of bands Lafe Cook, and for the last two school years was in the competitive marching band that recently took sixth place at the Bands of America Grand Nationals in Indianapolis. 

While there, he managed to lose a bag with his car key and remote, earbuds and a few other things. Sound familiar?

Jonathan, a senior, is headed to a four-year college, and like me he said he plans to hang up his horn after this spring at D-B, but not before some concerts and a trip to New York in March to play at Carnegie Hall and march in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade. He’s still searching for a college but has been accepted by three so far. I also got accepted by three.

Compare and contrast

So we both played brass instruments, were in marching and concert bands, got to (and for him, still get to) take trips we otherwise wouldn’t have taken. We also tend to lose stuff.

There are two other things. Our school fight songs are the same: “Our Director.” Volunteer didn’t have a fight song when I was there, but Surgoinsville had “Our Director.” It’s been surreal the past four years attending D-B football games and hearing my old fight song. In addition, the D-B and other bands to march in the Kingsport Christmas Parade Saturday are to light up their instruments because it will be a night parade for the first time in years like we had planned in San Antonio.

Today’s quiz: What two instruments did I play in high school band, and what does my son, Jonathan, play? 

Bonus question: My younger son, Creed, a fourth-grader in Hawkins County Schools at Surgoinsville Elementary, is on track to attend Surgoinsville Middle and Volunteer High schools. I wonder what future band might hold for him, if any, when he is eligible to start band?

Rick Wagner is education writer for the Kingsport Times-News and writes the “Behind the Blackboard” column/blog centered on education or related issues at least once a month. He may be reached at rwagner@timesnews.net.