The excellent De Queen Schools band concert Sunday afternoon reminded me once again of the importance of music and other arts in human development. The eighth-grade band and the high school band played wonderfully, many of them beyond their grade-level. It was obvious that the leadership was deeply committed to music as well as to the young musicians. I know that the directors would certainly agree with fellow Arkansans President Clinton and Governor Huckabee that participating in musical groups is very important. There is something wonderfully formative about cooperating with others to accomplish something beautiful. Thus, band may be one of the most important activities in our schools.
In my own case, I was minding my own business in eighth-grade study hall when the band director, Mr. Craig, came in and said, “I need a big boy to carry something for me.” I was always rather large for my age, so I raised my hand. I seldom studied in study hall (or anywhere else) anyway. Well, Mr. Craig wrapped a double-b-flat bass horn around my body and gave me a fingering chart for the scales. He said, “Tomorrow, instead of study hall, come to the band hall.” I did and became bass horn player all through school. My band experience was exceedingly positive. I got to dress up in a uniform, go on band trips, participate in parades, play concerts and develop friendships, especially with girls.
Also, when my voice changed, I noticed that I could sing the bass notes written in the hymnal at church and stay more or less on pitch. I was invited to sing in the church choir and, thus, became part of yet another group cooperating to accomplish something beautiful and often inspiring. I bought a bass fiddle and played it in several groups as well. I cannot say that these bands were accomplishing something beautiful, but there was considerable cooperation as we played at dances and other events. And, these ventures were somewhat lucrative.
Needless to say, when I was in the service, there were not many opportunities to sing or play an instrument. I missed an opportunity in basic training when the drill sergeant asked for anybody who played a musical instrument to step forward. I had been cautioned about volunteering, so I did not step forward. Most of those who did became part of the base marching band.
Anyway, at about the same time I got out of the service, my fellow bandsman, Kenneth Smith, got out, too. He became choir director at a church and, even though I was a bit rusty on all things concerning church, I joined his choir and really enjoyed getting back into the swing of such things. He had me sing a little solo in a cantata, “Lead me Lord.” That song became my prayer and I ended up in college choir where I met my wife. That college choir turned out to be the most important activity at college and truly led to something beautiful.