Paul D. Cooper was my high school marching band instructor. It was the Hinton High School Marching Blackhawk Band. Our summer festival parade comes about this Saturday and this year we'll be entertained by the Bemidji High School Marching Band!
People are excited to actually have a marching band in our small town parade. Tough budgeting years have caused some schools to do away with their marching bands and small towns like ours have suffered from their absence.I always get questions after a marching-band-less parade, "Where are the marching bands?" Most folks evidently don't know the lay of the marching band landscape.Anyway, this year we're having one and I hear our local school is going to put a drum corps in the parade as well, so it will be a "red letter" parade!
My high school band instructor was Paul D. Cooper. I've written sometime ago about this man of courage, conviction and nerves of steel.You have to have all those qualities to be a high school marching band instructor.Mr. Cooper, as we knew to call him, loved a marching band and he had us doing maneuvers with military precision.We learned how to reverse-pivot, oblique march, duck and dive, eyes-right, quick step and rotate our instruments in our gloved hands. The song we were most known for was "Everything Is Coming Up Roses." I can still hear it playing it in my sleep.
Mr. Cooper was a professional musician.He had played at numerous country clubs and fancy eating places and he could play the piano and organ with the best of them.I watched him play on a stage at the Hinton Bar B Q one year and he reminded me of Little Richard or Stevie Wonder.He bounced from one end of the piano bench to the other as he entertained the farm crowd sprawled out before him, all chewing on a piece of barbecued beef.
I was in awe of this guy who I had only known for the instruction he had given me on the clarinet and bass clarinet.Rather than raging and beating his leader baton on my music stand, here he actually seemed to be enjoying himself. Mr. Cooper entered our band in a number of competitions each year.We marched in the Orange City Tulip Parade, the band fest in LeMars, the Algona Band Fest and the Sioux City River Days Parade among others I can't remember.We always came home with some kind of trophy for the sweat and blisters we incurred during these events.
A car accident years before had caused Mr. Cooper to lose a couple of neck vertebrae. Hence, he had no neck.His chin rested directly on his chest. When you talked to him, you were usually talking to the top of his head.But when he talked, you listened less you incur the wrath of Zeus.Mr. Cooper didn't have much patience for those who marched with us who couldn't tell their left foot from their right.
While we were moving down the street at practice, he would dash into our midst and holler at some poor piccolo player who was out of step. Then he would dash to the trombone section and grab some kid's trombone and show him how to find the positions on the slide.Spit and sweat would fly and we learned early on to duck. It was critical to avoid these interactions with Mr. Cooper if at all possible. Tears were shed on many a drum skin if the cadence sounded weak.
But, Mr. Cooper never looked better than when we got it right and marched down the street with hundreds of folks cheering us on from the sidelines.He marched alongside us, chest puffed out, eyes front, at the front of the unit with his wool marching suit and he never missed a step.I could see that he really ate this stuff up.And, it made us proud too to be a part of band that had undergone Mr. Cooper's basic training regimen and survived! When Mr. Cooper congratulated us for a good show at the end of the parade, well, it really meant something!
I'll be thinking of Mr. Cooper when the Bemidji High School Band comes down the street on Saturday.I'd bet Mr. Cooper is looking down from somewhere above and smiling too.I know he had to go to heaven after the stress he suffered training us to march.
See you next time.Okay?
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