Pay attention. You never know when you might be witnessing the end of something grand.
That was how it was, in the eighth grade, when you’re in that hot stinky band room, seated in that metal folding chair, trying to master some crappy musical composition written for eighth grade band called “Sirocco,” or “Windstar,” and
your band director—in the middle of YELLING AT YOU to play quietly—your band director awkwardly announces that the director of the band at the high school collapsed with an aneurysm and died.
And you have no idea at the time, but the world just tilted.
Because the next year in high school marching band you’re in the first class to have four years with the new guy. So your first year is the last year with the full compliment of traditional pomp before the new guy starts whipping your band into shape to compete. Before you start going “corps.” And your immediate mentors are the last ones to know first-hand why to hate that.
The changes soon to come will have you, an adolescent in 1984, feeling wistful over John Phillip Sousa. Eventually, you will no longer do run-on, which is one of the most exciting performance devices you’ve ever been a part of, the driving
cadence, the double-time march, the grrrrrr, such a hormone rush that you’d end each show with more zits than when you started. The first time I did run-on, my squad leader fell down. Instinctively, I tried to help her up. She looked at me fiercely and yelled KEEP GOING! And she was right. Tell me you don’t learn things in marching band.
Anyway. There will be shows that blow minds—six drum sets on the field for “Sing, Sing, Sing” comes to mind (not written by Benny Goodman actually, but by Louis Prima? Really?)—but there will be lots of geometrical shapes in your future as well. Sigh.
For definition’s sake: In a marching band, there is a position known as “drum major,” or “field director.” This is a position of student leadership, usually filled by a senior or seniors who have conducted themselves admirably in a strong marching band career and who pass a vigorous audition. It is the drum major or the field directors who actually direct the marching band during a show while the band director actually sits up in the press box and video tapes the whole thing so he can watch it later and tell you all what you did wrong.
The person or people who fill this position always start out as the most awesome people you know, and the experience makes them even better people. At least I think that’s how it works. These people seem to preternaturally exude leadership, charisma, showmanship, and generally good nature. This was true of every person who played this role every year I was at high school.
But every one of them was trying to be Pete Schoettler.
Pete was the last of the Kent Roosevelt marching band old guard, the last drum major, the last to wear the Q-Tip hat, the last to wield a baton. The following year, we went to field directors, and I do not want to belittle the considerable talents of those student leaders. But if you asked any of them through the years what one person inspired them, what one person served as their model, there’s not a one of them who’d not come back to Mr. Schoettler.
Pete was iconic in this role. If Elvis, if Einstein, if Tiger Woods had instead aspired to lead a high school marching band, they would have been Pete Schoettler. He was the role; he defined the role; he created and mastered the balance among
showman, mentor, and commanding officer that is needed for the job. I am convinced that the four years of excellence our marching band was able to achieve would not have been possible without the leadership of Pete Schoettler. By example, he inspired at least four years of young performers who were so privelged as to have marched and played under his mentoring.
Schoettler’s obituary says he died in August, but I have just today learned of it. He’d gone to Juliard and had a Ph.D. from NYU; and I quote: “…he also transcribed the Renaissance madrigals of Carlo Gesualdo for brass quintet (for his doctoral dissertation).” Always impressive, he died a law student.
But in Kent Roosevelt High School marching band, Pete Schoettler held an important historical role, and he executed it brilliantly. He was the last drum major. I like to think that after Pete, they needed two people to do a job he did alone. Pete was the end of an era. And his brilliance and his integrity were rare but were so powerfully staying that they became a part of the atmosphere at my high school.
I just thought I might mention it.