I began my college years at Eastern Michigan University, in Ypsilanti, Michigan. My freshman year as a music major began in September 1963. I played alto saxophone in the Concert Band and the Marching Band, and I majored in Music Education. EMU was a rather small university at the time, compared to what it is today. We were just a few miles from the famous University of Michigan Marching Band in Ann Arbor, MI, but we refused to be intimidated by their fame. We borrowed a phrase from Avis Rent a Car at that time: “We Try Harder!” We even wore buttons to help boost our egos in the shadow of the U of M Band. One evening a group of us went out for pizza at Bimbo’s Pizza in Ann Arbor, and after we finished eating we looked up the address of Dr. William D. Revelli, Director of the University of Michigan Marching Band. We drove by his house and one of us was brave enough to run up to his front door and leave a “We Try Harder” button on his doorstep! We thought we were so cool!
During my undergraduate years at EMU, I became a member of the Band Staff, and it was our job to assist Mr. Thomas Tyra, Director of Bands at EMU, and former Director of Bands at Louisiana State University (LSU), in Baton Rouge. It was a great experience to work for this man who, besides my father and my grandfather, became the most influential man in my life. He was to become my mentor for many years.
After I received my Bachelor’s Degree I took a position as Assistant Director of Bands in the Chelsea Public Schools, in Chelsea, Michigan. I was the Director of the Junior High Band, and Assistant Director of the High School Band. During my three years of teaching in Chelsea, I spent summers working on my Master’s Degree in Music at EMU. After three summers of work towards my Master’s, I was offered the position of Acting Assistant Director of Bands at EMU for one year, during which time I completed my Master’s Degree. This position became available to me because my mentor was taking a year’s leave of absence as Director of Bands at EMU to finish his Ph.D. dissertation from the University of Michigan. Dr. Max Plank, who had been his Assistant Director, became the Acting Director of Bands for that year, thereby leaving his position open for me to fill. It was a great experience. The Eastern Michigan University Football Team played in the Pioneer Bowl that year in Wichita Falls, Texas. We played Louisiana Tech, and lost 14-3. I wrote the band show for half-time, using the Beatles song, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” Back then, college and university half-time presentations received television air time. This was a show-stopper, with hundreds of balloons being released at the end of the show.
At the core of my being, and in my heart and soul, I was always an artist. There was a tug-of-war in my life between art and music. Both of my parents were very accomplished musicians. My father worked in an office at DO ALL Tools in Detroit by day, and played in nightclubs by night with the Don Pablo Orchestra. He was also a private music teacher every Saturday at Hewitt’s Music Store and Studios in Dearborn. My father received his music training from the Detroit Institute of Music. My mother received her Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Wayne State University in Detroit. She was an exceptional French horn player, and upon graduation from Wayne State, was invited to audition for the New York Philharmonic. She decided, instead, to get married and worked as a Junior High Band Director in the Detroit Public Schools. My maternal grandfather, who was a tremendous artist, had the largest influence on me in my early childhood, ultimately causing a struggle within me between my love and respect for my parents and the love and respect for my grandfather. My grandfather passed away when I was 12 years old, and although I followed the path of art as a freshman in high school, I was drawn to music in my junior year, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Throughout my life, the struggle remained within me, wondering what would have happened had I pursued a career in art instead of music. I continued drawing and painting, and I enrolled in life-drawing classes from time to time. After retiring from my music career in 2012, I was finally able to return to my love of art, and I now can enjoy painting every day, and all day if I choose. There is no longer an inner struggle, and I am totally at peace with this choice.