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January 7, 2000

When Bill F. Sharp landed in Perry in the late 1930s, he was handed one of the least enviable jobs in the community. He was hired by the local school board to succeed the much-loved Professor Leopold Radgowsky as head of the PHS band and instrumental music department. Mr. Sharp was given the difficult task of filling a pretty big pair of shoes.

Prof. Radgowsky died in 1938 after ten years of teaching, cajoling and threatening hundreds of young Perry students in an effort to mold them into serious musicians. He used various methods -- scowling, baton pointing, slow burning, and perhaps tossing in a few unintelligible Russian phrases while endeavoring to steer some of his tone-deaf pupils along the road to acceptability. No matter how hard he tried, he could not shake off the adoration that every one of them held for him. The death of the Russian royalist immigrant, who came here from Europe via the 101 Ranch Wild West Show, was a cruel blow to the boys and girls who held him in such high esteem, and they carefully scrutinized the man chosen to replace him. Bill Sharp filled the bill.

Mr. Sharp was his own man from the start; he made no pretense of being Prof. Radgowsky's clone. The Perry school band program was barely 10 years old when he arrived but it already was an object of great pride locally. The high school marching band was a proud organization with few frills. A drum major with a ceremonial band queen at his side led the procession, but that was all. Twirlers, flag bearers and other adornments were added in due time, but the emphasis was on straight lines, snappy marching tempos from the percussionists, well defined angles in cornering, and of course all of the traditional Sousa marching songs played with precision and no sheets of music, if possible.

Mr. Sharp introduced his own distinctive style when he came here. His responsibilities included all phases of the instrumental music program from the beginners in fifth grade to the high school seniors. He related to all of them. My own connection to the program was as an aspiring trombonist. I was just beginning to get the hang of that device when I reached the high school level. After years of waiting I was all primed to join the older boys and girls in the marching band. Mr. Sharp reviewed the ranks of his musicians and decided he already had too many trombones, so I was switched to the bass horn, that marvel of plumbing, polished brass and an enormous bell. I hated it. Marching in the '89er parade at Guthrie, the Tri-State Festival at Enid or in other venues was simply an invitation for young bystanders to aim wadded pages of newspapers or other debris at those gaping bells. The process was more than trying to find the bass notes for all of those Sousa paeans. It required me to provide a moving target while staying in step and alignment with the other bassists. Not an easy task. Rainy or snowy days added another despised dimension.

Mr. Sharp, who died last Monday, eventually married a petite and winsome Perry grade school teacher, Flora LeGrand, and moved on to other school systems before landing in Oklahoma City. There he formed the Sharp & Nichols Music Co. For 36 years it was a well-known source of musical instruments and he enjoyed a warm statewide relationship with school bands and individuals. Flora passed away in 1969 and he married Irene Breeding, who survives. Services for Bill Sharp were held Thursday at the First Christian church of Oklahoma City, and somehow I have a feeling that his whimsical signature, b# (the musical symbol for B sharp) was used in some of the floral pieces. The world of music in Oklahoma will miss him.