To members of the Trenton High School Band there was no doubt in their minds that Mr. Schrader, their band director, was the best in the state of Missouri. How many other directors had they studied under to prove that? None, but that didn’t detract from their fierce loyalty to this kind, but firm, teacher.
By the end of the second year of playing in the high school band, I had moved up to the first chair of the second clarinet section. If I continued to practice, maybe I could move up to the first clarinet section in my senior year. Each school day morning at the beginning of first period, out came my clarinet, as did the saxophones, trumpets, trombones, French horns and other wind instruments played by the other members of the band. Chairs were positioned, music racks set up, and musicians all in their assigned seats ready to practice by the ringing of the last bell. The cacophony of sounds was nearly deafening as the budding musicians attempted to tune their instruments in preparation for the morning’s practice.
“Good morning, boys and girls. This morning we are going to begin practice on our piece for music contest this year. We will do a portion of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.”
Copies of the music were distributed to all sections of the band. There were groans heard everywhere because this looked like a very hard piece to master. The mumbles were cut short by the rapping of the conductor’s baton and everyone sat up with their instruments in the position that had been taught. Mr. Schrader was very strict and precise about how musicians should look and act. All members knew that at the first rap of the baton instruments were placed on the right knee. The next rap, the instruments went to the lips ready for play at the downbeat of the baton.
This morning I struggled along with all the other band members to sight read through this difficult piece. Only one or two members may have thought we had a chance of perfecting it. It was going to take a lot of “at home” practice to get this one right. Day after day the young musicians gathered in the morning to practice with the teacher.
“No, no, second clarinets, that’s not right. Play it again.”
Up to my lips came my clarinet and we played it again.
“That’s better. Keep working on it.”
Each evening my instrument and music was carried home to practice. By now the band was nearly obsessed with practice. We were going to get this one right and make Mr. Schrader proud of us.
Finally it was time to see how well we were doing. At the district music contest at a nearby town we made a good showing and were awarded a One, the highest rating. This meant we were eligible to go to the state contest. The judges’ comments indicated things that could be improved upon so we knew we had to try harder the next time.
The day of state music contests, held on the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia, arrived. My parents, supportive of my musical endeavors, took me because they wanted to listen to the performance.
Each band member was properly dressed in a sort of uniform of black slacks or skirts, white shirts or blouses and black shoes. Making a good appearance was considered important.
“Are you nervous?” my friend Alice asked.
“I sure am. Are you?”
“Yes, of course. I really hope we do a good job today.”
Band members could be seen everywhere, pacing up and down the hall waiting for our scheduled appearance before the contest judges. Finally it was time. We all walked onto the stage carrying our instruments and took our customary seats. Mr. Schrader strode to the podium and raised his baton. This was it. The music flowed from the instruments like water tumbling down a mountain stream. Then it was over, except for the judges’ rating.
Now came the wait. We felt we had done well, but it was any body’s guess as to what the judges thought. Most of us lounged around the halls waiting for the notices to be posted. Tension mounted, as the time seemed to drag.
“Hey, come see! We got a One!” Came the shout from one of the musicians standing near the notice board.
There was never a happier group of young people than those band members that night. They had proved to themselves and to their band teacher, that they could master a difficult piece of music. And there was never a question but what Mr. Schrader was the best.