A dream fulfilled: Brent leads the band

Unfinished business isn't simply about rectifying your wrongs; it's about rediscovering parts of yourself you may have neglected over the years.

In a recent post I asked: "Is there a passion you once had that could add a dimension now to your life?"

Brent Clanton, a long-time radio executive and host of CBS Radio's Talk650/KIKK-AM in Houston, shared the following story of how he recently fulfilled a boyhood dream. It's a wonderful story -- and winner of Part II of the "Where in the World was Lee?" contest.

My father was a music educator. A Band Director at Spring Branch High School and Memorial High School in the '50's and 60's. In 1967, he forsook the Band Hall for the Administrative Principal's desk at Memorial, and finally retired as an educator performing administrative duties.

Paternal inspiration: Gerald Clanton circa 1960

I wanted to be like my Dad. As a young child, I accompanied him to band contests, marching competitions, and the inevitable series of weekend football games each autumn, perched on the first row in the bleachers, in front of 150 band students, blowing, honking, beating, and crashing their horns and drums. It was mesmerizing. In the spring, Dad would conduct symphonic bands, and there I'd be, on the front row, feet tapping to the beat, and ears absorbing the rich textures of sound. 

I loved to hang out in the Band Hall with my dad as he rehearsed brass or woodwind sections, and relished the chance to listen at the front of the room as he worked the entire ensemble through concert pieces ahead of some performance competition. I loved the smell of cork grease and slide oil, of musty woolen uniforms, and the tangy dankness of brassy horn bells.

When I entered Junior High, there was no question I would be in The Band. I chose percussion because my first pick, saxophone, was already taken by about 15 other Boots Randolph wannabe's. I sailed through Junior and Senior High in the top performing concert bands and marched for four years with cymbals, snares and bass drums strapped to my slight frame. I loved it all. 

In college there was no time for Band, but I joined the University of Houston Chorus, and traveled to performances around the state with that august group. I loved it.

I wanted to be a Band Director, but Dad talked me out of it, telling me I'd starve (as he was afraid that we had during his band leader years.) So I chose Radio...and starved for the first ten years of that career. A career that brought me full-circle to the University of Houston's Texas Music Festival summer program, and a competition to conduct the TMF Orchestra. My dream come true! 

I worked the Facebook connections like a fiend, pimping and prodding and cajoling my peeps to vote for me to be a Guest Conductor for the TMF Orchestra. And I won.

Two days before the performance this summer, I arrived at the Moores Opera House to rehearse with the ensemble our performance of The National Anthem. They didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what to expect.

Most of us in this country--all who were raised here--know the words and music of our National Anthem by heart. It's played at ballgames, PTA meetings, and on all patriotic occasions. The TMF Orchestra was comprised of a fair percentage of musicians NOT from America--less than half the group knew the music.

So I explained the significance of the piece, and we added a drum roll at the beginning that would allow the audience of several hundred to rise to their feet and sing along with us. 

The night of the performance, I was introduced, walked across the stage to the podium, and lifted the baton to start the group. The baton was my father's...the one he'd used countless times on stage with his high school concert bands.

And with the first down beat, the drums roaring at the rear of the stage, I knew I'd reached that childhood goal of being "the leader of the band," if only for a moment, if only for a single piece. I loved it all.

                                   *     *     *

After I read Brent's story, I wondered whether Brent's father had ever regretted leaving his job as band director -- and if he'd been at the opera house that night to see his son lead the TMF Orchestra.

Brrent wrote back: "Being a High School Band Director was (and is) a very time-consuming occupation with very little financial incentive to offset the additional hours: marching practice every afternoon, bus trips every Friday or Saturday night during the football season. At the time he made the job switch, he had four kids, aged 12 and under."

Brent's father had loved the time he spent leading the band, but he never looked back. And although he wasn't able to travel to Houston for Brent's performance, he was there in far more than spirit.

"While my father is not outwardly emotive, he does have a deep sense of history and family pride," Brent explained. "His grandfather's fiddle has been restored and mounted in a shadow box that sits on the mantle above his fireplace, complete with the snake rattles the old timers used to put inside their fiddles. The instrument still plays. So, in the weeks before the performance, when I asked him if I could use his baton, Dad got up from his chair without a word and fetched it from some nook in the corner of his cluttered office and said 'have a good time.'"

This is a story of how a son rediscovered a passion and paid homage to his Dad. But it's also a story of how a father created a legacy with his grandfather's fiddle and passed a baton to his son so that his son could fulfill his dreams.

I had one more question for Brent. "Were any of your kids in the audience when you led the band?" 

"My daughter and son-in-law were there," he said. "And they gave the performance the thumbs' up!"

Lee Kravitz is the author of UNFINISHED BUSINESS: One Man's Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things (Bloomsbury). Click here to share a story with the author. The best reader stories will be inclouded in the paperback edition of the book, which is coming out in May 2011. Coming up in Unfinished Business, the blog: A singing cowboy who is creating a legacy for future generations, and a social scientist who gave up tenure in order to start learning again.

About the Author

Lee Kravitz

Lee Kravitz is the author of the books "Pilgrim" and "Unfinished Business" and formerly editor-in-chief of Parade magazine.

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