On the Corner

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by Robert Docter – 

Music in general and banding in particular have played a major role in my life. Everything I ever learned about playing a horn, and many of the things I’ve learned about living a life, I’ve learned in a Salvation Army band. So, with deference to author Robert Fulghum, here’s my list of learnings:

Follow the leader. Cooperate. Try to play in tune. Concentrate. Be ready. Work at improving yourself. Remember, everybody plays a part, and every part is important. Catch the tempo. Hear the melody. Phrase. Getting nervous never helps. Being a little anxious is motivating. Practice. Pray. Praise those around you. Keep in shape. Show up all the time. Don’t rush. Don’t be late. Learn your part. Achieve. Keep God in the act. Choose happiness. Criticize performance, not people. Learn the words. Don’t impose unsolicited assistance. Keep your tools in good condition. Count. Fit in. Watch your attacks. Find the synergy of common endeavor. Be consistent. Avoid negativity. Learn how and when to take a bow. Give notes their full value. Communicate the message.

On a band trip, sleep whenever you can. Pick a partner who’s a good conversationalist. Learn to say “no” politely. Stay regular. Carry a good book. Find pleasure in meeting new people. Be respectful of others. Say “please” and “thank you” often. Appreciate cultural diversity. Make the bed. Avoid criticism of others. Be aware of your feelings. Don’t always feel it essential to share your feelings. Reset your watch in different time zones. Monitor your attitude. Exercise. Be friendly. Never engage in hostile humor. Be genuine. Volunteer. Participate in carrying the heavy stuff. Keep a journal. As an evangelist, find ways to “close the sale.” Remember, in a band, everybody’s the “star.” Call home.

There’s something about working with a group of people to achieve a common goal that is even more rewarding than an individual achievement. To know that others have simultaneously buried their own individuality and allowed it to flower as part of a greater whole has rewards measured in exponents. Feelings surge through the body. Tears form. Heart rate increases. The surroundings become surreal.

Some of the peak moments of my life have been experienced in a Salvation Army band. I’ve played in the same one now for well over 50 years. Some of my friends might be described as “band hoppers,” but I guess I’m a stayer. I make no value judgment on this quality. I offer it only as a fact. I have discovered, however, that time brings a particular affinity in membership, a quality of cohesiveness, a fond bond of closeness not available in any other way.

I remember flying with this band from Los Angeles to Phoenix around 1946. We were on a worn-out Flying Tiger paratrooper plane with no seats. The parachute “hook-up” wires still ran the length of each bench. We claimed to be the “first Army band to fly.” Strong egos. I remember playing the march Rousseau under the leadership of its composer, Ray Ogg, in the Varsity Arena in Toronto, playing over our heads. I played Tucker that day. It was a long afternoon. I remember marching down the long aisle into the Royal Albert Hall in London with this band, wide awake and excited with the crowd and the clapping and the entry music of the ISB even though we hadn’t slept for 24 hours due to flight problems enroute. Flying Tigers again. I remember Frank Moulton, our alto horn soloist, holding the Royal Albert Hall audience spellbound with a flawless performance of The Old Rustic Bridge to which we sang Albert Orsborn’s memorable hymn Except I am Moved with Compassion. Two weeks later, he and fellow bandsman John VanDahlen were dead as a result of a tragic crash on the autobahn. Our cohesiveness and faith kept us. I remember a Sunday afternoon in the Masonic Temple atop Nob Hill in San Francisco when Ron Smart led the band in Resurgam with Wilf Mountain on euphonium. Without a score, without a stand, the band around him, Ron drew music and message from us in unanticipated ways. When we finished there was deafening silence. Everyone was moved. The power of the moment still impacts me.

I remember last Sunday morning at the corps. We played a jazzy flugal solo in which the soloist improvised in an intricate manner significantly different from past performances. The place went wild. I was touched. I played sitting next to my daughter. The soloist was my son.

Maybe that’s the way the Army carries on, finding ways to change within a context of tradition.

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