Peter Schoettler, 44; Musician and Scholar

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.

8 thoughts on “Peter Schoettler, 44; Musician and Scholar

  1. Aaron, thank you, thank you. You said what we think but could never express as eloquently.

  2. Aaron, I just googled Pete’s name to see what other people saw when they look for Pete, and this came up right after his obituary. I still cannot believe he has an obituary. I’m sorry I didn’t see this until tonight, March of 2012. I’m his wife, and your words mean more to me than you will ever know. Pete was hard on himself, always an overachiever, which made him both happy and sad, and I often think about how he told me about being a drum major, and about how difficult it was for him to demand as much from the band as he did. But I think it paid off, in how well the band did (I wish I had seen more than just photos of him in his “q-tip” hat) and in your memories of him. He would really have been proud to read what you wrote. Thank you for writing this, as beautifully as you did. I can’t wait to show this to his daughters. And if you happen to be at Kent Roosevelt High School on May 27th at 4, Pete’s family (me, our girls) will be there, doing a little tribute to him at the garden his mom built in his memory. Thank you for writing about Pete. — Nina

  3. Nina, I’m glad you commented. Thank you, not only for making me realize that my former WordPress theme was FUBARing my comments, but just for letting me know you’d found this.

    Pete was one of those touchstones I didn’t realize was there. When I heard, I hadn’t thought of him in years. I don’t know anything much about what he did after high school. But I know what he accomplished with the band. It was quite the ripple effect, what that guy managed to accomplish.

    Ask any student director after him, or any band member who got to work with him. Pete influenced that extra-curricular institution in awesome ways. Those girls should know their pop was exceptional.

  4. Hello again, Aaron — I wonder if you would object to my quoting you at the dedication of Pete’s memorial garden at Kent Roosevelt High School in May. I really think your words are amazing and touching and get at what Pete would have wanted people to think of him. So, I’d like to print up part of your blog posting about him for people to read at his dedication on May 27th. I’d credit your site, of course. Would you have any objection? Do please let me know. Thanks! — Nina

  5. Nina, sorry I took so long to get back to you. Of course. Use it anything and everything from it.

  6. So shocked to learn about the death of my former French Horn professor. He was always so gentle and encouraging, and I will forever cherish his lessons on orchestra excerpts. I remember he used to wear a scarf of Crazy For You, since he played in the pit orchestra. When I was nervous about playing an exposed horn part in the orchestra, he encouraged me to loosen up and play as if I’m playing Broadway music. Thank you for all that you taught me. Your wonderful lessons will live on forever, as it gets passed down to my students 🙂

  7. I’m just now reading this wonderfully written piece. Pete was a good friend in high school (I played French horn, too) and I have so many fun memories of those days in the band. Our 30 year class reunion is next weekend and he will be missed.

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