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Nichols: A lifetime of musical memories bring joy

POSTED: May 24, 2010 1:00 a.m.

The April 25 program of the Believers Concert Band brought back many memories of my participation in making music for others to enjoy.

I had wanted to return to that band, but when I joined in a rehearsal two weeks prior to the concert, I sadly discovered that my fingers were too slow with Parkinson's disease for me to play along with the band.

Dr. Lee Martin had invited me to join that band back in 2004 and I really enjoyed playing my saxophones (alto and soprano) for about five years.

Richard Petty is the best conductor I have ever had. When I played a wrong note, his ear never failed to detect the mistake. Every rehearsal was a learning opportunity. He used the whiteboard to draw notes or explain a complex jazz rhythm. He could sing correctly any phrase that was troubling me or any other member of the band. He joked and frequently made us laugh.

Members of the band form a musical family. Rehearsals take a lot of time. The full band meets for at least two hours every Tuesday evening. Some also spend another hour or two on Tuesday mornings for small group sessions.

The jazz band spends Saturday morning once a month in rehearsal lasting two or three hours.

The Believers Concert Band sometimes plays for regular church services at First United Methodist Church, which is the host for the band. The band also gives concerts in retirement homes and other places in town. It is a true community band with beginners who never played an instrument before. It also welcomes old-timers who played back in high school days (like me).

When I entered the seventh grade in middle school, I asked my parents if I could learn to play a musical instrument. My mom pulled an alto saxophone out of storage and told me I could have it if I learned to play it correctly. That sax has been with me for about 70 years. It plays well when my fingers are not freezing.

I was a member of both the school band and the orchestra for four years. We played at all home football games. Each year from New Year's Day to Easter, we presented concerts in the town auditorium alternating band and orchestra every Sunday. Our audiences were mostly tourists visiting Florida.

In 1945, I became a professional musician, joined the union and played nightly (except for Mondays) at Jacksonville Beach Pier for 3½ months that summer.

We were "Bill Smith's All College Dance Band" improperly named because none of us were in college yet. The draft had taken most of the local musicians. We were about all that was left.

Right after graduation from Lakeland High School, I enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the Air Corps. For most of the year I spent in Japan, I played saxophone in the Fifth Army Air Corps Band. We played for parades on Saturdays rotating among the various U.S. bases in Japan. We played an occasional dance for officers, and separately for enlisted men.

After my military service, I went to study at the University of Virginia. I did not join a band because I needed to concentrate on my study. When I came back to UVa for my graduate work, I joined the Community Band to relax with music. We gave concerts in Charlottesville's parks.

After I received my PhD and began teaching I did continue to play in the marching bands at Appalachian State and Westminster College. But after I turned left when the band turned right and I found myself marching alone in the middle of the football field at halftime, I decided that I was a better band supporter than member. My teacher prep requirements had not given me the free time to attend all practices.

Thus my sax was stored quietly until I met Dr. Martin.

I am deeply proud to have been a member of the Believers Band. The concert in April brought a tear to my eyes. I had played all but two of the pieces on the program.

Vera and Ken, the couple who sat next to me at that April concert, said they missed seeing me up on the stage. They like reading my columns. Three others at the concert said similar nice things about my former membership in that band.

I am grateful for the opportunity of getting to know fellow part-time musicians in this band. I miss that fellowship.

Growing old with grace is difficult but better than not surviving.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly on Mondays and on


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