(I’d been undecided as to whether to do this. I’m a rather private person, and I don’t tend to post about my personal life here. This is too fundamentally important to go unmarked.)
“Press on: Nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessul men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” — Calvin Coolidge, 1872
This was one of my father’s most treasured quotes. It has been posted in my parents’ ‘music room’ for as long as I can recall. This was where he taught trumpet lessons for many years. Where he wrote a seemingly endless stream of arrangements for various events. And this is the room where I first wrote music, and had the hand- and mind-numbing experience of doing the full score and parts in pencil for one of my early band works, over the course of 40 hours straight, without sleep, to meet a deadline.
I made it.
My father taught perseverance.
My father was a commanding presence; a great big barrel-chested man, with a deep, resonant voice. A man who, upon first meeting, might be somewhat intimidating, except that he was the embodiment of gentleness, tenderness, and benevolence. He never raised his voice – he never needed to. He earned respect by giving respect. He earned loyalty with loyalty. Love, with love.
He was an active musician throughout his life, playing trumpet and keyboards with a number of bands, in a number of styles, for more than 40 years. He played dixieland with the HappyTymes Jazz Band for more than a decade. He spent eight years as a member of the Arkansas Symphony. He backed Isaac Hayes, Doc Severinson, Boots Randolph, and James Brown. All the while teaching music and band-directing full time. He would often leave a Friday night high school football game after the marching band had, under his direction, finished their half-time show, to go play a gig somewhere, often in the middle of nowhere. And another gig the next night. And often another on Sunday night. And be back at work on Monday morning teaching. One December, he and the Tommy Henderson band, whom he performed with for many years, played 30 gigs in 28 days. This went on for most of the 35 years he was a full time music educator.
Through all this, my mom and dad were happily married 41 years, and were the most amazing parents to me and my brother. I cannot recall a single time when either of them disciplined us, or denied us anything, without giving a clear reason, and I found I could never disagree with them, even if I wanted to. I’ve never felt wronged by them in any way. Their upbringing ingrained in me a moral clarity far deeper than externally-imposed dogmatic rules or societal mores ever could.
The magnitude of my father’s life is only now becoming viscerally apparent to me, as person after person he touched has shared their stories, their experiences, and their admiration and respect for him. He brought music into the lives of thousands of people. Even more importantly, he taught the values of being a dedicated, honest, compassionate person, and taught it by example, not by sermon.
I can only hope to bring as much wisdom, kindness, and inspiration to this world as my father has.