By Lee Pevsner
When I was about 12 years old, I was in Redding, and happened to see a marching band going down the street. I wanted to be a snare drummer in a marching band. That was it!
Fast forward a couple of years, and I am in Helena, Arkansas in the high school band playing snare drum in the marching band. This was a very good band. Two years later, we traveled to Chicago to play a concert before the Mid-West National Band Clinic. It was a memory of a lifetime. We took the train from Memphis on what was the Illinois Central line. Northbound it was the City of Chicago. Southbound it was the City of New Orleans. (For all of you Arlo Guthrie fans).
I wanted my son to be in the band at Golden Valley High School. He was an electric guitar player. It was a great disappointment that he could not play his instrument in the marching band. They did not have an extension cord that long. But the band director, Greg Christiansen let him play cymbals in the marching band, and his electric guitar in a jazz band.
Everything is personal to me, and when I come in contact with excellence, I recognize it, and appreciate it very much! Greg Christiansen is a genius! I told him this all the time, and he always was uncomfortable and deflected with statements like, “It is the kids.”
Greg was the band director at Golden Valley when my son was a student.
Are you aware of how good the Golden Valley Music Program is, and has been for years and years?
Greg took the Merced High School Marching 100 Band to the Rose Parade in 1990 and Golden Valley in 2009. This is not an accident! Oh, and by the way, he was Teacher of the Year too.
My son was out of the band on a Navy submarine at that time, but I stayed on as Band Booster treasurer just so I could go to the Rose Parade with the kids. It was a memory for a lifetime! Most importantly … for the kids!
If you look at the ethnic mix of the Golden Valley Cardinal Regime (that is the official name of the band) you see that it reflects the community. When we went to a jazz competition in Reno, we faced off against bands from affluent areas where the kids had been taking private music lessons for 10 years and owned their $3,500 saxophone. I was the treasurer of the Band Boosters. We have some really poor kids.
They performed incredibly! Why? Because they had an absolutely incredible band director.
On the Golden Valley Band Room wall is a sign: “An excellent performance is rarely an accident; it is the result of practice.” Mr. “C” — Greg Christiansen — had VERY HIGH standards, and the kids thrived.
Here is the example that I want you to understand. Do any of you remember Paul Bear Bryant?
He was the Head Football Coach at Alabama. A more recent example is Nick Sabin, also at Alabama. Do you think it is an accident that Alabama has won so many national championships?
Excellent coaches, teachers, band directors, youth leaders, whatever, make a difference. You want your kids exposed to these people. It will change their life and help them to travel to where they really want to go.
I was returning to Merced from New York last October and was at JFK waiting for my flight. They called someone up to the counter. His name is Patrick Lauppe, not a very common name.
We sat next to each other on the plane. I knew that Patrick went to Harvard. What are you doing now, Patrick? I just graduated from Yale Law School, and have a job as a patent attorney in Palo Alto. Patrick Lauppe was in the Golden Valley Band!
Mr. “C” has retired, and luckily, he was replaced with an extremely excellent band director named Michael Vasquez. I do not want to take anything away from him, but guess who his high school band director was?
We are extremely fortunate to have excellent music programs throughout Merced County, but it has to begin at the middle school level. You can learn to play the cymbals in about ten minutes, but not the trumpet.
All of the high school music programs have not only a marching band, but also jazz bands, concert bands, and winter percussion.
In speaking about the Golden Valley Music Program, I am including all the programs in Merced County. Music and the arts are one of the first things they think about cutting when schools feel some kind of economic pinch. Are they completely nuts! The same shoe does not fit everyone, nor does the learning methodology. There is math in music! And I am not being poetic!
Go see music performances by our local schools, get your kids involved in band.
When I am at Starbucks on Friday mornings with my buddies, and the place is over-run by students from Cruickshank. I occasionally chat up some of the students. You know what I ask them?
Are you in the band?
• Don’t miss the big Central California Band Review at Golden Valley High School on Nov. 9. Parsons and Childs avenues near the school will be closed for the marching bands, starting at 6 a.m.
Lee Pevsner is a resident of Merced and a Times contributor.