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July 5, 2002

The latest copy of the PHS Alumni Association newsletter arrived in the mail the other day and, besides being very attractively laid out, it contains a lot of information about the Centennial reunion being planned for the week of the Cherokee Strip celebration in September. Congratulations to Ethel Coe and others responsible for producing the newsletter and also to Marilee Macias and Karen Wilcox for their willingness to serve as co-chairmen of the reunion. They have taken on a big job and they are getting it organized very nicely. Thanks to everyone who has accepted some responsibility for carrying out the various function of this once-in-a-lifetime event.

I see an article in the newsletter about a PHS Centennial Alumni Band being organized to perform during the reunion. Bill Rotter and Sandy Hentges are working on this. I haven’t been contacted yet about playing a Sousaphone, the instrument I had in the Perry High School band some 60 years ago, but let me say in advance that I will not be able to participate. For one thing, I do not own a Sousaphone. For another, I have completely forgotten what little I ever knew about reading music.

Singing in a choir or playing in a band where most of the others read music is not always an easy job. Generally, if you don’t read music, it means you need to sit near someone in your voice or instrument range who does read music and then try to sing or play the same notes. It also means you don’t know where to look when the director says at a rehearsal, “Start from the C sharp.”

I have had some experience with this problem. It began when I took piano lessons as a youngster. I had several teachers because during the Great Depression our family drug store used to barter merchandise like aspirin and Ex-Lax for my piano lessons. I could read enough music to get by but that ability did not last very long.

When I was old enough for the school band, Professor Radgowsky coached me on the trombone and I dreamed of being the next Tommy Dorsey, or at least being able to read the notes. By the time I was old enough for the high school band, they said they had too many trombones so I was switched to the Sousaphone. Those are the large and fearsome metallic bass horns that coil around the player’s chest and rest primarily on the left shoulder, with a cavernous bell projecting above the player’s head. If I wanted to be in the band, I had to play the Sousaphone. This was both good news and bad.

The bad news was, a whole different musical library had to be learned. The good news was, it seemed to me the Sousaphone only had two notes – “oom” and “pah.” Anyone who has danced the polka knows this is so. Not do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti or do. Just “oom” and “pah.” So it was not hard to get by when playing those stirring marches favored by band directors. Just blow “oom” or “pah” on the right beat and I could get by. It worked, most of the time. Some of my colleagues in the bass section were Wendell Wood, Frances Russell, Frances Harris, Mildred Malzahn and Paul Laird. All of them could read music. Judging by the excellent concert presented by the Perry High School band the other night, all of those musicians read music, too, and they certainly play it very well. Congratulations to all of them.

Once, in preparation for the band’s annual spring concert in the early 1940s, I noticed that other members of the bass (Sousaphone) section were playing actual notes on the scale, and that made my “ooms” and “pahs” very obvious, because they were audible. To make a long story short, I got by with my version of “notes” but today I am musically challenged. The ability to read music has left me. I know when a note goes up or down, but the best I can do in choir is listen to the singer next to me and try to duplicate what he is doing. Most of the time, it works, but I no longer accept invitations to play the Sousaphone. Sorry, Bill and Sandy.