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He can't be here with us, but he left us a few notes. Charles B. Thrussell - Redneck Clubhouse - Of, By and For Rednecks!

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Old June 24th, 2013, 04:31 AM
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Default He can't be here with us, but he left us a few notes. Charles B. Thrussell

I probably tried to find this man at least five times in the pre-internet age, and at least twice online in the last few years. I'd finally given up, assuming he'd passed away pre-internet, since there was no obit in searches and he was elderly by then. I had some things I wanted to tell him.

But I can't tell him those things now, so I'll just have to leave him a few notes.

Friday morning there was his picture in the local newspaper, in the obits. Older than I remember him, but for 97 he'd aged well. VERY well. It was a good picture of him.



This is Charles B. Thrussell, my first music teacher. Smiling the same way he was when I walked into the band hall at River Park Jr. High on the first day of school for my 9th grade year, fall 1976. Stunned and flummoxed - I'd expected Tony McMasters, the band director from last year - I just stopped in my tracks and stared at him. Through his smile he said, "I wondered where you went! Come on in!"

"Where I went" was, away from the Highland Road area where he had been my band director from 1972-1975. Fifth and Sixth grade years at Vista Creek Elementary, and seventh and eighth grade years at Highland Road Jr. High. Troubling years, my mother had left my father for this fireman guy, and they were married in 1968 - the day after RFK was killed. We lived on a little farm and raised most all of our own food.

My school days started at 4 am, getting up and going out no matter the weather to tend the livestock, slop hogs, feed the horses and cattle, feed the chickens and gather eggs, and do any other chore our stepdad said to do. Then it was a quick bath, then breakfast. Then it was off to school, a three mile walk to Vista Creek. (Highland Road was closer and by that time, I had built myself a bicycle out of discarded parts found and gathered over a couple of years.)

The building my own bike part is important because it's also part of the story with Mr. Thrussell.

Anyhow, here we were, reunited at River Park because my mother had divorced the fireman two years prior and let myself and my siblings go, to live with our biological father. And he lived and worked out in the River Park area, so that was now, our school. And Mr. Thrussell had followed me there.

Reading Mr. Thrussell's obit was like time travel, and memories of him and those years flooded in.

For my 5th grade year, I'd wanted to join the music classes at Vista Creek. My mom was told I would have to provide my own instrument, the school district is poor and doesn't stock musical instruments. This seemed to be a hindrance since we also had, little money. Oh, we always seemed to have money for boats, campers, fishing gear, a regulation pool table - all the toys which interested my mom and step dad. And of course their beer and hooch. But we never seemed to have any money for extras for the kids. You know, stuff like clothes, shoes, and the like. Luxury items, right? These were purchased for the older kids as cheaply as possible at goodwill or any other second or third hand store they could find, and were handed down to the younger kids as the older ones outgrew them. This is how they operated. The only new stuff we ever got during those years was from our grandparents at Christmas. They'd been instructed of course, to buy shoes and clothes in lieu of anything resembling toys, games, bicycles... You get the picture. If I'd wanted anything like a toy, game, or even a bicycle, I would have to just make it myself, scrounge it from our twice a year trips to the county dump, or do without.

Me being the next to youngest meant that most all my clothes, shoes, most everything really were "hand me downs" from my older half brother Billy, and/or my older sister Becky. She was really the "lucky" one though because, being the only girl, they pretty much had to buy her girl stuff. These much to the chagrin of the parental units, really couldn't be handed down other than stuff like deck shoes, tennis shoes they were careful not to buy with pink or girly frillys on them, and so on.

(No, the dresses and strictly girls wear were not handed down, sorry to disappoint. They were typically donated back to goodwill after Becky outgrew them.)

So this was the atmosphere where my mom suddenly found herself needing to buy me a snare drum, a concert snare. This is what first year music students who were going to be drummers, required.

Mom supported my desire to learn music, since she'd had first hand experience with me playing the drums in Billy's little garage band he had. She would even sing along with us occasionally, providing we would play the songs she wanted to sing such as stuff by Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, and so on. So our repertoire was much more inclusive than your typical garage band of this era. We were as apt to be playing "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals, as we were "Fraulein" by Bobby Helms, so my mother could sing the vocals. I could play the hell out of the drums, but couldn't read a note of music.

If you think I am digressing, I'm not. Keep reading.

The snare drum the school recommended was the Ludwig concert snare. It comes with the stand, sticks, and a case. It cost 200 dollars at the music store. Well, you can guess that wasn't happening.

The drum set I'd played on in Billy's band was a really old early 60s Slingerland jazz set. It was all psychedelic colored, red, gold and silver swirls, of course it also had the glitter... Really garish. It was a jazz kit and wasn't at all suitable for the type of music we were going to be learning at school. Plus it was trashed, Billy and his friends had gotten drunk one night and just destroyed it - they'd bought it cheap somewhere, it was theirs so I guess they could destroy it if they wanted. It had been gathering dust back in the shed for a couple of years now, forgotten.

Long story short, after having been told by the stepdad I wasn't getting a drum "unless you squat and shit one," my idea of getting any formal music training was shot.

One day about two weeks before the first day of school was scheduled to begin I was lamenting my situation... Was in the shed trying to put the old drum set together for some reason - when a idea struck. Why not fix up and use this snare drum from this old kit?

I was able to cobble it together using two drum heads from the floor tom that weren't destroyed, (There were big dents in them however) and they fit the snare, was able to find and untangle the "cat gut" snares themselves, and assembled it! I found the stand too, it was all bent up but I straightened it somewhat... And shazam! I had a snare drum I could take to school and be in the music class with! I ran into the house and got mom to come take a look.

She was ecstatic! But as she pointed out, I didn't have any drumsticks or a case for it, how was I going to carry it and play it?



So... The first time Mr. Thrussell and I met, I was trundling into the Vista Creek band room carrying a beat up old blue Samsonite suitcase my mom had scrounged. In it was the Slingerland snare drum, the stand for it, and a pair of drum sticks my mother pretty much forced the stepdad to whittle out of a wood dowel he grudgingly purchased for a dollar. He shaped them crudely, sanded them some, and varnished them. This would have to do.

The five other kids in the drum section were pointing and snickering as I set my drum up... A music stand was produced for me and I was given the lesson book. Class was ready to begin.

They had this, shiny and new:



I had this, but alot more beat up and rougher, and much more garish than this:



Mr. Thrussell came out, placed a folder of papers on his podium, looked us all over and began speaking.

"I am Mr. Thrussell. I will learn your names as we go along. I am here to teach you music and you are here to learn. I am firm but fair. Music requires discipline, patience and dedication. I don't put up with any tomfoolery and if you want to be a cut-up, the door is right over there."

Nobody moved so much as a hair as this TALL man laid down the law of his classroom.

"We however will have alot of fun as you learn. Music is a gift and it is a challenge at the same time. If you are up for the challenge, you will earn a gift you will carry with you for the rest of your life. Let's begin by going to page one of the lesson book...."

Quickly, books opened and pages turned. Music stands rattled and instruments clanged softly against steel chairs. We were on our way, on the road to musical adventure, with Mr. Thrussell..


Drudgery

That "road to musical adventure" is really, really tedious at first. If you haven't been in a first year music class let me tell you, it is drudgery. Very little actual playing of instruments goes on. And even less for the drums - which were under strict quarantine by Mr. Thrussell. Keep your snares lifted off and towels on the top head of the drum, so they didn't rattle and ring while he was speaking or while the real music students were learning their notes. Any noise coming out of the drum section earned a scowl from the podium, so we were careful to enforce silence back there.

So it took quite some time before my "toy drum" as the other drummer kids disdainfully called it, to be noticed by him. But as you can figure, that judgement day finally came...

It was after the first six weeks tests were over, we are well into the second semester and by now we have learned measures, stanzas, quarter notes, half notes, and so on. The horn players and woodwinds have learned the basic scales and chords. We were on sixteenth notes now. And by now, the drummers had been getting homework!

I had been hauling my little snare kit home every day to practice. Practice time was quite limited, there were farm chores to do after school ya know, and the stepdad disdained homework. We all were under edict to avoid it if at all possible - get your work done at school. Use the study hall, extra class time after the daily assignment of the class, and lunch and recess time to do your damn school work. We work here on the farm and we have no damn time for any damn school work! You get the drift. If he had his druthers and thought he could get away with it, I doubt we kids would have even been in school at all.

My drum practices had to be out in the shed so the parental units couldn't hear, and this had to wait until after the chores, if at all. There's no power in the shed of course, so if it was dark by the time I could work in some practice time, I had to use a candle. So eventually I stopped hauling the drum home, preferring to just leave it in the band hall like the other boys did theirs. This happily ended alot of the fun-poking I was getting every day, trundling this ratty suitcase to school and back. I started getting my lesson practice in during the band class before Mr. Thrussell came out.

I figured out some time later the other kids had "practice pads." Round, flat rubber pieces that fit on the drum head and muffled it. Knowing better than to ask the parents for one of those, one day I picked up a piece of wood and was using that. Then another day I found a old piece of a truck tire... I cut that piece into a square and tacked it onto my wood block with some nails I'd found lying around. There's my practice pad. It never left the shed, of course. Bad enough I had been hauling my "toy drum" around, I didn't dare let anyone see this "practice pad" I had crudely fashioned. I began carrying just my drumsticks and the music folder home every day, instead of the whole, lurid and garish setup.

Anyhow - one night by candlelight, practicing that night's homework lesson, the light came on. The one inside my head, that is. The light of understanding and realization. The one Mr. Thrussell worked every day, to see out of us. I now understood sheet music! I can READ it! I GET it now!

How did this happen? Our assignment as I mentioned before was sixteenth notes. Trying to figure these out was a conundrum for me and for the rest of the drummers too. We had left school that day agreeing none of us had the slightest clue about them.

In my practice I started just counting them. In the lesson they were in a four beat measure, 4/4 time. That counts one, two, three, four. This looked to me like the impossible - there were 10 notes in the four beat measure! Four sixteenth notes followed by a quarter, then four more sixteenth notes followed by a quarter. It counts, "onea-anda two, threa-anda four." Hitting the drum, ten times in one measure? That's sure what it looked like. It sounded like, dadadada dum, dadadada dum, on my practice pad. That's how I practiced it. 4/4 time, 120 beats per minute was the tempo called for in the drill, so this has to be it. I think it IS it. I am sure of it, confident of it. It counts right and it times right. Dadadada dum, dadadada dum.

I went to bed that night, certain I had it. The whole mystery of musical score on paper had solved itself. I was confident....


Redemption

The next morning in the band hall, the other drummers looked and sounded confident too. I hadn't compared notes with them, but they seemed confident enough. It looked to me like they figured they had this.

The deal is, each section in the band had students ranked by chair. First chair was the best player, and so on down the line. And whichever student did the best job with the assignments got the first chair spot.

We hadn't had any changes in the drum section since the first day pecking order had been established. Of course, the long haired skinny kid wearing the ragged hand-me-downs with the "toy drum" and the homemade sticks was 5th chair, last chair, and the most popular kid, Brian, was first chair. His clique sort of filled the rest of the chairs in no particular, consistent order. There had been no real opportunity for any competition since our assignments were relatively far easier than the other kids, who actually had to make their wind instruments play in tune as well as, in time and in rhythm. But the first chairs in the other sections had stayed pretty consistent lately too, as the cream always rises to the top as it were.

Today started with the drums, since Mr. Thrussell hadn't gotten around to us by end of class yesterday. And as always, the round started with the first chair drummer. Brian was up.

Tap Tap Tap Tap Tap (pause) Tap Tap Tap Tap Tap, he played, the expensive and shiny Ludwig drum sounding crisp in the early morning.

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, because this sure as hell wasn't what I had! He's just playing it like it was quarter notes, from what I could hear. I waited and watched Mr. Thrussell for some confirmation, but he said nothing at all and went on to the next guy.

Second chair goes, Tap Tap Tap Tap Tap (pause) Tap Tap Tap Tap Tap. Same exact thing. Same exact Ludwig crispness. Now I am REALLY starting to get worried, since Mr. Thrussell still isn't commenting, not telling them they have it wrong, or indicating this is right, he is just moving right through.

Two more turns by the two final guys before me, same result. Tap Tap Tap Tap Tap (pause) Tap Tap Tap Tap Tap. Ludwig crisp.

He turns to me and says blandly, "Okay, let's hear what you have" and points his baton at me. My mind is reeling. I KNOW these guys are wrong! They HAVE to be? But, they all four agree, and Mr. Thrussell hasn't said anything to them. I am not sure what to do!

"WELL, fifth chair?" Thrussell barked only slightly, "You gonna play?"

After getting over the little jump I did at the bark, I just did what I'd practiced.

BlammaBlamma BLAM! BlammaBlamma BLAM! - My old Slingerland rang out loudly, rattling and echoing, shattering the morning calm and relative silence in the room. It sounded terrible compared to the Ludwigs. It had been everyone else's turn to jump, as it was startling even to me! Some muffled girl giggles filtered up, and there was overall mild exclamation, as everyone recovered from the noise they'd just been assaulted with.

With a stern look around the room only Mr. Thrussell could deliver, the giggles and shuffling and exclamations stopped... But much worse, all eyes were on me now. Me and my "toy drum."

Mr. Thrussell focused his gaze on me, looking like he might have been examining a bug in a jar or something - half disdain, half curiosity. "Let me hear that again," he says.

BlammaBlamma BLAM! BlammaBlamma BLAM! - I complied. It didn't sound any better, and the ringing of the drum was more noticeable this time since there was quiet after, instead of the giggling and so forth. Nervously, I stood there, helplessly looking at him. Awaiting judgement.

His face was sort of twisted and puckered like he'd just put something terrible tasting in his mouth, and he shook his head quickly like he was trying to clear cobwebs out. He points his baton at my drum and says, "What IS that?" With a sneer.

"That's my drum sir," I meekly replied.

He sort of squinted a little, pointed his baton at the guy next to me, the fourth chair guy, and says, "Play it again on his drum, so I can hear you..."

The 4th chair kid was sitting anyway, but I looked back at him for visual permission - we didn't play each others drums, it was sort of a unwritten rule. He was just sitting there looking aghast, I got nothing from him so I moved on over two steps to my right, above his drum - which I noted, was set quite a bit lower than mine, since he was shorter. Oh well, I wasn't going to mess with it, so I just looked up to see Mr. Thrussell pointing his baton at me. "Whenever you're ready..." he said.

I could feel the sweat between my fingers and the sticks, feel it on my feet, could feel it beading up on my forehead, feeling like some of it might be getting ready to roll on down. Damn, it was hot in here... I played.

RattaTatta Tat! RattaTatta Tat! - Wow, that sure sounded better. I almost couldn't believe my ears! Mr. Thrussell pauses, looks around the room a bit, then says, "One more time."

RattaTatta Tat! RattaTatta Tat!

I stood there, still awaiting judgement, holding my sticks together between my hands much like wringing a washcloth... Still feeling like I was right but really also, having doubts. Definitely not confident and not certain, anymore. What would it be?

Immediately Mr. Thrussell began waving his baton at the first chair, while looking at me and saying, "Why don't you move your stuff on over to the front of the line, everyone else move over one spot to make room. You're the new first chair drummer - and remind me at the end of class that I want to see you here after school today..."

We began moving our gear as ordered, while he immediately droned on, "Ok trumpets - let's hear your assignment for today..." and practice drills continued. The other guys were too stunned to say anything, but so was I, and we all got moved relatively smoothly.

And I sat. In the first chair. Me and my "toy drum" and homemade sticks. And listened to the rest of the drills....


Rebirth

Brian to his credit, took it well. After class he was saying, "how did you figure that out? I knew the first time you played it, it was right!" The "light" had come on for him now, too. From that day on, Brian made himself into the perfect second in command in the drum section. Loyal to me and excellent with the other drummers, keeping them well informed and in line, everything in our section flowed down from the top now. More about that later. First, I must meet with Mr. Thrussell after school.

If you're kept by a teacher after school it is never a good thing. Never, ever. So I was really worried as the other kids were getting on the buses, or into their parents cars, or walking home as was my way too, really worried about what I had done wrong and what punishment Mr. Thrussell had for me. Fortunately I didn't have to worry much about punishment at home for having to stay after - the stepdad was at his job at the fire station and hopefully wouldn't ever find out.

I walked into the band hall and saw Mr. Thrussell sitting in his office, mulling over some papers at his desk. Probably writing a nasty letter to my mom or something.

Rather than interrupt him, I slinked off to the back of the music hall, to the drum section. He'd said I had to be here after school, hadn't said anything at all about what I would be doing and for me that included, talking with him. Let's see if I can avoid it sort of?

Avoiding teachers was old hat for me. From the beginning, way back in first grade, I was known to just sidle away until I was out of observation range, and bolt. I was really bad about, just leaving in the middle of the school day and just walking home. So teachers over the years quickly learned they had to keep sharp watch on me at recess, lunch, and etc because when they gather the rest of the kids up to go back in the building, I would typically be, not among them. I was a "flight risk" to use a term later applied to accused criminals on bail. They also learned never, ever to send me to the office or let me go to the restroom without escort. I would just fail to return. Of course, all of this is another story entirely but it gives you a clue as to why I thought maybe I could just, simply avoid Mr. Thrussell. Sorta.

But the man moves like a cat and he's just as quiet in movement as one. No sooner had I started looking over a big ole concert bass drum way in the back - the school did provide those and other, expensive percussion instruments like Tympani, cymbals, bells, and etc - he was there! Standing by my drum which was still on its stand. Not allowing himself to notice, I supposed, that I'd jumped a little at the sudden sight of him, he merely said, "That big drum is probably twice as old as you are, but this little one here is about exactly your age. How much do you know about it?"

I approached, responding to the unspoken "come here" order, and noticed he was looking over my homemade sticks. I replied, "It's my brother Billy's drum, he's got a set it comes with."

"Well it's a nice set then, these Slingerland drums are some of the best made. And these older ones really have character," he said. Placing the sticks back on the stand he continued, "We have some work to do on this old, sick drum. I'm gonna show you how to tune it up. Do you have a key for it?"

I couldn't have been more stunned if he'd suddenly given me a million dollars. Was this really why I am here? We're going to fix my drum? Really?

Yes, really. And all of this background story was necessary, as I hope you can see now, for me to explain to you what a special human being Mr. Thrussell really was. He was taking personal time, HIS time, to help a downtrodden kid out.

I looked at the drum, trying to find the slot for a key to fit in. A key? Like a car key? Why does a drum need a key, I was asking myself. I had no idea at all what he was talking about and I looked up at him, confused. He merely smiled, and walked over behind the big bass drum.

He pulls out this cardboard box full of stuff, dragging over to where I was standing. Looking in it I could see drum heads, mallets, sticks, some rags, a bottle of something, a little tool box - he had assembled a kit to fix my drum!

"At least you have Remo heads on yours, but they're really beat up and old. I picked up a few items at Highland Road and brought them here this morning after class, thought you might like to have your drum sound better."

And that's what it was. Patiently and thoroughly, he taught me everything there is to know about rehabbing and tuning a drum. Any drum. The key? A special little hand tool which works the lugs which fasten the ring down on the head. I'd always used pliers, had never even seen a drum key.

We took the heads off, removed the cat gut snare, and replaced them with NEW Remo heads and a actual, modern, metal spring snare. He replaced the felt tensioner anti-ringing pad inside (mine was just, gone leaving only bare metal there). While we had it all apart we cleaned and polished all the parts and the drum itself. Then upon re-assembly, I learned the lugs are there not just to hold the heads on, they are there for TUNING.

Tuning a drum is ridiculously easy but I won't belabor the procedure here. Suffice it to say that by the time we were done this old Slingerland drum not only sounded good - it put those modern, shiny new Ludwigs to shame!

And nobody ever called it a "toy" again... As the first time it was allowed to speak in practice, it was clear to everyone things had changed. The sound was now a signature and it was my signature, and it sounded, professional... Not the metallic, tinny cheapy muffled crispness of the Ludwigs, which by now I'd come to regard as the toys - it seemed to me they were afraid to be heard. This Slingerland had a rich, layered, textured sound you would normally only hear in professional recordings.

The only fee Mr. Thrussell asked for was my homemade drumsticks. He had given me a pair of new class 2B sticks, which were the course-required ones, and asked if he could have mine. I of course said, sure. And my homemade sticks were history.


The Sticks

The school year went on, and we even had a spring concert in the cafetorium with the combined 5th, 6th and seventh grade students. And yes, I was the drum captain of this combined symphonic band. The other drummers from the three classes had elected me so! At this point I could outplay and outread them all anyway, could even do drum rolls - Mr. Thrussell had given me a drum instruction book containing the thirteen essential rudiments of percussion.



The paperback, sheet music sized book was old, he'd dug it out somewhere. It was in the cardboard box of stuff we used to fix my drum. He told me I wouldn't normally be seeing this for a couple of years but it would make good study. It did, in fact it was, rudimentary. The thirteen exercises in it later came into play as required tests in school for drummers. As did the next thirteen, released about three years later. Here's the first thirteen, for reference:



The year ended and summer flew by. I practiced on the rudiments which by now I knew by rote. And in time, another school year began. Proudly, I carried my Slingerland drum to school and set it up in the band hall, and I had intentionally arrived quite early - I had some drum tuning to do!

While I was there all alone in the band hall I took a little break to have a look around, and I noticed something new hanging on the wall right below the clock, waaay up there. At first I thought it was some sort of new class bell, but on further examination I could make out two drumsticks, in a box.

I walked through the rows of chairs, past Mr. Thrussell's podium to get a closer look. Craning my neck I was able to tell, those were MY drumsticks up there, the homemade ones from last year. They were in a little box, enclosed in glass, and were hanging there like a picture, posed on red felt.

He'd hung my drumsticks up for display? I put the question away to ask later, if at all. The bell suddenly rang, startling me as if to reinforce the idea, don't ask! And as it turned out, I never did.

Sixth grade band class is quite different than first year. You are expected to remember everything from last year and to have retained it throughout the summer. We were now on to other things, actual pieces of music to learn, like when we were preparing for the combined spring concert.

Mr. Thrussell gave a short lay down the law speech similar to the first year one, but it was much milder and it was couched with, "For those of you who are new this year and don't know..." And the class began.

He says, "I want to introduce you to some friends of mine. They can't be here right now though. But they left us a few notes. Please open your folders and find "El Capitan" by John Phillip Sousa..."

I didn't get his little joke there, and no one else did either. In fact I didn't get it until I heard it again, from him in 1976 at River Park, first day of the 9th grade year. Notes. They left us a few notes.... Mr. Thrussell's humor was always quite dry, but good.

Remembering all this present day, I look down at the obituary again, and at his picture. "It's you sir," I said. "You left the notes. You left us all, every note we learned and every note we heard after. You can't be here with us anymore, but you left us a few notes...."

I noticed water splotches on the paper....

I must write, I said to myself.


Lessons

It was a really bad day in the band hall. I mean, really bad.

Fall 1977, we are six weeks into the school year, and the combined 7th, 8th and ninth grade symphonic band of River Park Jr. High School is trying to get ready for its annual fall concert, just one week away.

It was appropriate that Halloween was near, because the band hall this day was a spooky place. Some of the kids had simply and to put it mildly, not been doing their assignments, their homework, or their practice. And it was showing.

Not for the drummers though. We had our shit, together. This stuff we were going to play was easy. Easier for some, only a little harder for others. I had given up the snare to my second, Dave, because Tympani was required by all three pieces we were going to be playing and I was the only one with any idea how to play it. That is to say, I could figure it out, given time. It was my first time on the kettledrums, as they are also called. But by now I had the parts mastered for the concert.

Anyhow, we were stuck on this piece called "March-Winds." And it was the winds, the woodwinds - clarinets and saxes, anything with a wooden reed on the mouthpiece - that were giving us all the trouble.

Mr. Thrussell's frustration had been growing all week, since by all appearances very little progress was being made. So today, he went back to the old school tried and true method - chair competitions. And the clarinets were on the hotseat.

We drummers just sat and listened, it was like being back in first year music class again. Rather tedious with nothing to do but listen and watch as Mr. Thrussell put them through their paces. Oh and of course, keeping our drums quiet.

He'd assigned them a section of the Winds piece, to go home, get right and come back today to perform with their chair spots on the line. And so far, nobody had it. The first chair girl, little cheerleader, miss popular, miss perfect and Bertha Betternyou, had blown it. And Mr. Thrussell was going right on down the line without comment. There was blood in the water for sure, as I knew from experience the first kid who got this right was going to be, first chair.

It didn't happen until the last chair, a little 7th grade girl who was quiet, shy, homely, not well dressed and awkward. But oops! She can't hit the notes and her clarinet was squeaking like the dickens. Snickers and general murmurs floated up, which Mr. Thrussell quickly silenced with, the look.

After a second attempt also failed, Mr. Thrussell got down off his podium and went to where the girl sat. "Let me see that thing," he said as she handed it to him. He tried to play the bit, with surprisingly similar, poor results! "Hold on just a minute," he told her as be began marching towards his office. The parallel to myself years ago wasn't lost on me at all. Her clarinet was old and was a worn out piece of crap, to be blunt. But I had detected that, rhythm wise, this girl had the assignment down. Hitting the notes was her problem.

Mr. Thrussell came back out with a new reed and some tools, and after fiddling around with this little horn and cleaning it, was able to play the segment. He handed the clarinet back to her, saying, "Would you please ask your mom to bring you here after school?" as he headed back to his podium.

"Now," he said. "Please try it again."

She nailed the assignment almost perfectly, and I knew what was coming next, but unlike before, I knew it wasn't going to be smooth.

Because little miss Betternyou was gonna pitch a fit. She was that type.

"Please move yourself and your stuff right on up to first chair," Mr. Thrussell intoned as he waved his baton that direction. Shuffling started, but Betternyou chimed in. "That's not FAIR, I've been first chair ALL YEAR," she wailed. Uh-oh.

Mr. Thrussell just glared at her for a second as the room got deathly quiet.

"Here's what's going on," he told her. "You see those drumsticks up there?" He is shaking his baton at MY old drumsticks, the ones from Vista Creek, that he'd brought here with him and hung in the same spot, right below the clock in the band hall.

"Those belonged to a kid whose family was so poor, they couldn't afford clothes or shoes for him. He came to school wearing rags. He wanted to be here and learn music, so he scrounged up a old tattered drum and brought it here. He made those sticks himself, because there was no money for drumsticks. With his homemade sticks and his old worn out rock and roll drum he endured ridicule and embarrassment, because he WANTED to learn music. He had the desire and the heart and the devotion, the dedication YOU lack! He WANTED to be here and it was WORTH something to him. This is the problem young lady, you take everything for granted. Everything comes easy for you. You don't have a smidgen of what he had. And it's exactly the missing ingredient you NEED to be able to learn this discipline, this art. You need to decide if this is something you really care about, or you're just doing on a lark. It's NOT a lark for kids like her (pointing the baton at the last chair clarinet girl) and it wasn't a lark for him."

The bell rang... She was literally, saved by the bell.

"Tomorrow," he projected his voice over the ringing bell, "We will pick up right here, same lesson. I better see ALL of you here."

The kids couldn't get out of there fast enough! And Betternyou was first out the door. But not me and not the rest of the drummers. I soon realized we all were standing there, looking at the sticks... I was the only one in the class who knew this "kid" he'd talked about, and hoped the others guys hadn't noticed I was blushing, flushed.

I finally gave a small nod, gathered my stuff and headed off to second period class.

The next day was like a whole new world. Early drama though, because clarinet girl was still sitting last chair, and the first chair spot was vacant. Just a empty chair and a music stand, there. Betternyou hadn't skipped class though, she was in Mr. Thrussell's office - with her dad!

The clock was saying we were a full ten minutes into class when the dad walked out of the office and marched for the exit, followed by Betternyou, who had tear streaks on her face. She approached her spot at first chair, but instead of sitting down she picked up the chair and took it back to the last chair girl. Placing it on the floor, she said something quietly to her. The girl picked up her stuff and moved to first chair, while Betternyou settled in her place - at last chair.

(I learned later this had been her dad's idea, she had pleaded her case to him and he was hearing nothing of it. Not only did he not take Betternyou's side over Mr. Thrussell, he had suggested the last chair placement.)

She was supposed to be second chair. If Mr. Thrussell noticed this discrepancy, he didn't say anything about it. He just apologized for his tardiness, and proceeded right into the clarinet chair competition.

New first chair girl played the segment even better than she had done yesterday - and I noticed she had a better horn! Gone was her tattered one, replaced by a newer looking one. Hmm, I said to myself.

The rest of the girls did much better too, although it was apparent more work was needed. The fourth chair girl was moved to second, and when it came time for Betternyou's turn, SHE nailed it too! Mr. Thrussell moved her up to third chair.

And the drama was over. The rest of the day it seemed everything was coming together and we finally were getting somewhere with Clare Grundman's March-Winds piece! And the band overall was better, everyone seemingly applying more dedication and the results were immediately evident and grew each day. Lessons, people.

Here's March-Winds at the concert.




Exodus

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," someone once wrote. And for me this was a tale of two schools. And the time had come, to say goodbye.

I was ecstatic that I was getting out of this shithole that was Highland Road school. Never mind I hadn't been there much lately since I'd skipped almost the whole last quarter of the eighth grade year and had recently found out I would have to repeat it at my new school - this wasn't due to the skipping, or the resulting grades. It was due to the standards of this old school being far enough below the ones of the new school, I would have had to repeat eighth grade in any event, upon transferring. Oh well.

Walking there for the last time, I could think of nothing there I would miss. Not the walk itself, not the smell, not the fellow students - yeah I had made some friends there but no one really special. No one I couldn't live without or would really miss. Not the crappy desks, the crappy walls, the (mostly) crappy teachers, the crappy food, the crappy everything.

But there was one person at Highland Road I would miss, and I was going there today for one reason only - to see him and say goodbye.

Teachers were "in session" the two weeks prior to school starting, so I'd gambled that Mr. Thrussell would be there, readying the band hall for another year. All the ninth graders from last year would be back as sophomores, since Highland Road was now a fledgling high school. He would have more kids to work with than ever before here.

I strolled into the band hall carrying my old drum in the same old ratty suitcase originally provided. And there Mr. Thrussell was, cleaning out the trophy case of all things. Dusting all the trophies and putting them back on the newly dusted shelves. Working.

The prior fall at the beginning of the eighth grade year he'd advised me that at some point I would have to make a choice between band and football, since at the high school level you couldn't do both. Well, that decision had been made and it was also part of the reason I was here. I was going to ask him if he would accept my old drum as a gift. I was now, exclusively, a football player.

The welcoming smile he greeted me with slowly melted away as I explained the situation. I would not be back this year since myself and my siblings were going to live with my "real dad" and he lived on the other side of town. I would not be here and I would not be continuing with band, I had joined the football team at River Park.

This revelation turned the slight frown he'd developed into a outright scowl. "I really wish you would reconsider that, son. Football only lasts a short time, music is forever."

And he was right, but I'd already thought about that. I told him, "Music lasts forever but I can still do it when I am older, can't play football much past age 30. I need to play while I can sir."

And that was that. No judgement, no further protest, just acceptance. I had a hard time getting him to accept the next part though. Would he take my drum?

I wanted to just leave it here, like I was leaving the other parts of my life behind on "shit hill" as my dad called this area. I really had no use for it anymore and it would make me happy if he had it. Maybe it could be used again?

His protests dissolved at that last part, and he said, "Well, maybe there will be a kid comes along who needs a drum. I'll just put it in the instrument room and if you change your mind, you'll know where to find it," and the deal was made.

I'd like to think he kept it, took it home. But the truth is, I have no idea what happened to it. I never saw it again. Or him either, until my ninth grade year at River Park.

Happily I'd discovered that at River Park, you could play football and still be in the music program! So of course I signed up for band. I was sure that would please Mr. Thrussell if he knew about it. The eighth grade year at RP was uneventful in the band hall, we had this younger cat named Tony McMasters directing in his first year at the job - he was fresh out of college, and the music program there was dismal - he only had, 20 or so students in the program. And that was the combined 7th, 8th and 9th grade classes! By contrast, we had about 80 on the roster of the combined classes football team.

Mr. McMasters was a all right guy, a good cat. And with little to work with, he did a good job. We had a decent showing in the fall concert, a slightly better one in the spring. And school was out.

As you know if you've been reading, first day of school for the 9th grade at River Park was the reunion with Mr. Thrussell - he'd migrated over from Highland Road to take Mr. McMasters's place, who had taken a job in the music program of some college. The numbers were alot better - Mr. Thrussell had done some recruiting during registration and he had 60-plus students in the combined program!

So, here we were now at the end of that year and it was time once again, to say goodbye. I was going to High School at Mesa Vista, was going to play football and not do music, it was deja vu. I thanked him for all he had done for me, and for others, and promised I would visit. "I'll be here" was his parting words, along with well wishes. The exodus was complete and life goes on.





Oh. Yes I kept my promise to visit, one time only. I came strolling into the band hall at RP after school, several months later. As had been habit through the years of music classes, I glanced up at the clock to see if my sticks were still up there. They were, but there was another box as well, under the sticks - with a clarinet in it! It was the old ratty one the homely, last chair clarinet girl had, from the previous fall! Mr. Thrussell was collecting trophies of his own now!

Snickering at that, I found Mr. Thrussell in the instrument storage room with a lady and apparently, her daughter. Another after school help project was under way, this time a French Horn. I could see he was busy so I made my visit short. But I wanted some advice - football wasn't going well at Mesa Vista.

We kids from RP weren't well regarded for some reason, although we'd come off three years of undefeated teams, playing sophomore and junior varsity teams in the area. But we'd never played any of the city schools, we were from a country school, a county school, and we weren't known to the coaches, who had their pets and favorites. Any kid there who had a older brother who'd played there, got preference regardless of abilities. I was considering hanging up the cleats at the end of the year and returning to music.

What he said about that, stuck. "You don't have the same dedication for football as you do for music. But no matter, you have to do what you think is best for you. But I think you belong in the band."

We talked just a little bit more as he related the current situation with this French Horn and this little girl - she looked to be a 5th grader - and I left. Feeling uplifted.

I wasn't there for the first day of football practice my junior year at Mesa Vista. I was in the marching band, leaving them notes.... Ironically, on the same field the footballers practice on. And thinking, Mr. Thrussell would be pleased.


Epilog

For my part, life went on. I never participated in organized music again after Mesa Vista, but the last performance with that band was a towering triumph.

May, 1981 and out of over 150 high school music programs from all around the country which came to Apache Junction Arizona for the massive Spring music festival they used to host there, our marching band field show won the competition. Rated best in show, and best in class. This after all the rest of our group and individual efforts were lustily panned by the judges, all week. This was the choir, orchestra, jazz band, concert band, and all the soloists. Including, my own snare solo set. That had never happened to me personally, before and I had been in alot of competitions and festivals by this point. We could do nothing right, they hated us. It had been mostly a terrible experience, dismal - up until that final night, in the football stadium.

Which leads me to Mr. Lomax. Nigel Lomax, our band director at Mesa Vista. We called him "Max" and he didn't mind it at all. Of all the teachers I encountered in my school travels, Max was closest in comparison to Mr. Thrussell there was. And folks - he wasn't even close to him. That says alot really about both men. Max gets mention with Mr. Thrussell, but that's all.

There we were, sitting in the stadium seats watching the performance of the last band before we were to take the field - we were seeded first for some reason, so out of the whole week, we were that last marching band to perform... We watched and listened as this massive band from Belton Texas, played our opening number. Picture perfect. And they were good. What a depressing experience. How the hell would we follow that? The pall over us was palatable. Can we not catch a break?

When we gathered behind the stadium for final checks and the final word from Max, he had his trademark bullhorn out and he waited until we settled a little, then he boomed out:
"God bless you kids, you've worked hard and tried hard. You're not the problem, it's them. They just don't know great and can't see great, until right now. You're gonna make them see it. Right now, you're going to forget everything you've seen tonight. Forget everything, from this whole stinking week. This is now October and it is regional contest in Kerbel Stadium and we are going to go out there and show them what we KNOW how to do! We're going to blow them off our field and part their hair and we're going to make them, forget, everything they have seen! This is OURS! WE own the field show!" He paused, "I love you kids, each and every one of you... Get out there, hit your marks and hit your notes and play the blazes out if it one last time! BLOW like never before! SHOW them who you are! LINE UP! LINE UP!!"
We were ready to eat lightning and crap thunder, as my River Park coaches used to say. And we went out there, nailed it like it really was October, and kicked... their... collective... asses.

Graduation came and from there it was the workaday world, as a adult. One thing I took from the public school system was some training in music and those life lessons, but I also had enrolled in Journalism in high school. Three years, learning how to write. I had a knack for it, even more natural for me than music was, as was discovered and nurtured by the journalism adviser at Mesa Vista, Ms. Crowley. And then it was even my college major... And so on. Here I am, using that skill, leaving a few notes.




The stepdad. Fortunately he just sort of melted away and disappeared, and we never heard from him again. I found out later, he'd died in the early 80s at something like age 64. He never left any notes, all he left was the heartache of two broken homes - He had been married with four kids too, when he entered the affair with my mother. But, I must give some credit - under his regime I at least learned self reliance and a good work ethic. Definitely self reliance for sure, he could be counted on for diddly squat so we HAD to learn it.




My mom - She stayed in contact through Jr. High and high school, even managed to be there for the concerts and for graduation! She remarried to a cat named Randy and he was a good guy, and she was finally happy, her demons mostly excised. And those demons were fierce. Let me demonstrate.

In the fourth grade I'd been ordered by the teacher to go stand in the corner until she told me to come out, for some forgotten transgression. Well, long story short she just forgot me and, not knowing any better and following her edict, I stayed there. Long after she herself had left and the lights were out. Long after the sun had set, and until I was found there, right where she'd told me to stay, early the next morning by the janitor!

Mom had had the sheriff's department out looking for me all night and was just coming unglued. She kept me home from school that next day and was just fuming. All day. Muttering bad things.

The following morning I was sitting in class, everything was going quietly and smoothly until the door flew open and this jet-black haired wild maniac ran in, grabbed the teacher by the hair with both hands, and dragged her out in the hall and beat the living shit out of her. It took most of the school staff and finally five sheriff's deputies to extract her from the school... That's my mom. Mercurial anger that seethes and simmers, then boils, until finally it explodes like a pressure cooker left unattended. That teacher? Yeah, we never saw her again and I'd heard later she did quite a bit of hospital time over the thing. She hadn't deserved that and I still feel really bad for her.




My dad. He did a good job with us, teaching us the things we farm-raised heathens didn't know about alot of things - table manners, etiquette, and so forth. He got me at least, back into reading again and was encouraging to all our endeavors, except football. Long story there but, he was against it. He passed away in 1998 at age 64 too. He didn't leave any notes either, he was a broken and sad man, never got over my mother's wrecking our family, but managed to live a relatively happy life with three other wives he outlived, one at a time. But really, they all had the same problem as far as he could know - they just, weren't her. They weren't his first and only love, my mother.

But I'll tell you one of the stories of my dad. One hot summer day we were sitting in his old Ford pickup in a little highway grocery store parking lot, waiting for my stepmom Elizabeth to come out. We'd been traveling and were on our way home, but she needed some cigarettes.

This armored truck pulls up a short distance away from us, and the lone occupant of it got out, opened the rear doors, and threw two big fat ruck sack type money bags on the ground. Carrying two empty bags, he marched right on into the store without even looking around, leaving the full money bags lying unguarded on the asphalt!

My dad stared at that for a time, his hands wringing the top of the steering wheel, sort of kneading it like bread dough. Needing dough! Then he says, "Get out and get one of those sumbitches and throw it in the back of the truck, and jump in with it. Close the fucking door on your way out."

This was it for him I guess, the opportunity to get rich he'd been waiting for all his life. Willy Loman was going to make his big score and change the "death of a salesman" narrative! But I thought he was pulling my leg. He was known for that, being quite the practical joker. I wasn't falling for it and laughed and said something like, yeah right.

He whipped his head around and looked at me, and was like, "You little mother fucker. Get your ASS out there and do as you're TOLD!"

He was serious! "What about mom?" I asked plaintively.

"Don't worry about her you dumb sumbitch! She'll find a goddamned ride. Get the fuck out there and get that goddamned bag while we still have time before I knock your fucking teeth out!"

I was about to say something really stupid, like, "go get it yourself" or such, when reprieve arrived in the form of Elizabeth, cigarettes in hand, coming back to the truck.

As she got in dad was in the middle of a cussing fit... and Elizabeth got a little miffed and started arguing with him. "What's YOUR problem old man?" And such. "None of your fucking business you pig bitch!" He yelled as he slammed the truck in reverse and got us back on the highway.

Not long after, the truth came out in our household about that day, and forever and probably even now, I was a disappointment to him because when the chips were down, I didn't obey orders. Elizabeth for her part loved to bring this up, making fun of him and his wringing hands, "needing dough," as she liked to call it, avarice in his soul. And she always defended me, insisting I did the right thing.

I never got around to actually asking my dad what his plan was had I obeyed. Was he gonna just drive off and leave mom? What was he gonna do with the money, bury it? What made him think he could get away with it?

Any notes on that, he took with him to his grave in the National Cemetery at Santa Fe NM. He was a Marine, buried with full honors. He'd earned lots of medals including the purple heart for action in Korea, and was one of the "Frozen Chosen" who quite heroically participated in arguably the US Marines' finest hour, what's called the battle of the Chosin Reservoir.

Marines By Gawd followed orders. And I hadn't. Period. That makes me a tick turd. That's my dad.





Remember Bertha Betternyou? We wound up dating a little in high school. She'd hung up music and was a cheerleader, basketball player, volleyball star, and was little miss popular again. But this time it wasn't superficial - she worked hard at her crafts and was dedicated. Devoted. And cared about others. We talked about those days back, and she told me Mr. Thrussell taught her very important life lessons. And it showed. (She's the one who told me it was her dad who flipped on her, told Mr. Thrussell to make her take last chair.) She was no longer betternyou, she was just, herself. A vast improvement and at last knowledge, she's done very well in life as a devoted wife, mother, nurturer and of course, granny. I never told her those had been MY homemade sticks up there.




Little last chair clarinet girl walked into the Mesa Vista band hall the first day of my senior year. Homely no more, she had blossomed - she was now comely! And confident, and self assured. The change was astounding. I went up to her and gave her a high five. Told her anything she needed, I was her hook-up. She didn't need me. By the middle of the year, she the sophomore was first chair, first clarinet! She was there for the whole deal that year, from football season all the way through to the triumph in Arizona, and all we ever exchanged were occasional secretive little glances and smiles. Because she knew, you see. Mr. Thrussell had told her about the sticks and where they'd come from... And she knew that I knew about the clarinet.... Haven't seen her or heard about her at all since high school though. I bet she's done well.





Shiny new drum Brian. Brian became my self appointed 1st Lieutenant after he lost first chair to me in the 5th grade. Talk about loyal, he didn't let anyone give me any guff, anywhere. Period. We weren't friends or even cafeteria lunch mates and weren't really in common classes much other than band, but he was always a stalwart advocate and right hand man. Made sure the rest of the drum crew was in line, on board and up to speed. He really made my "job" in the band easy. I would just tell him what it was, how to play it, what we need, who we need to do it, and he would literally, make it so. He wound up a lawyer, making the big bucks. It kind of fits.

That last day at Highland Road when I gave Mr. Thrussell my drum and bade him farewell? As I was leaving I went back into the drum section where everything was already set up for the school year to come. First chair was vacant, just the empty chair and a music stand, but the other spots had drums there. On the music stands were folders with the kid's names on them. In the first chair music stand, the folder there had my name on it. Brian's was on the second stand, Robert's on the third, and so on. The pecking order.

Quietly I folded up my chair and stacked it in the rack. Then I took that music folder with my name on it, and placed it on Mr. Thrussell's podium. Then I took that music stand down and put it in the corner with the other unused ones. There. "You're first chair now Brian, carry on the tradition," I thought to myself, as I walked out the door for the last time. Never saw or heard from Brian again either.







Charles B. Thrussell was a great man but also a humble man. He just went about his business with dignity and calm. If a kid needed drum help, or clarinet replacement, whatever it was the needed item(s) would find their way into the kid's hands without any fanfare or even acknowledgement - he just made these things happen as a matter of course.

Sadly, I learned more about him from his obituary than during the six years he was a part of my life - more about the facts of his life that is. I'd learned his soul, through contact and observation. I'll quote some of his obituary for the record.
Charlie, (as his family calls him), was born on May 26, 1916, near Yale, OK, to Clarence and Sarah Eva Keys Thrussell. He was the youngest of one sister and three brothers. He moved to a farm near Coyville, Wilson County, KS, in 1921. After an adventurous country life growing up, he moved to Las Vegas, NM, where he graduated from Highlands University majoring in instrumental music. While there, he met and married Charlotte Cristin on September 5, 1942.

Charlie served in the Air Force during World War II, leading the 713th Air Force Band at Yuma, AZ. Following the war, Charlie taught both instrumental and vocal music in many places around the country, earning a Master’s degree at Northern Arizona University at Flagstaff, AZ.

The family settled in Texas in 1955, where Charlie taught at Baylor Jr. High, Esparza, TX, Highland Road and River Park. After retiring, Charlie and Charlotte spent several years traveling in their RV. Charlie always had hobbies to work on, his favorites being woodworking and silversmithing/jewelry making.

Charlie and Charlotte were active members for many years at Hill St. Christian Church, where Charlie served as a deacon. Charlie impacted the lives of many throughout his long life. He always met others with a smile, a joke, or a song to encourage students, friends and family. Perfect? No, he was human, after all. But he was fun. He was a character. And most of all, he was loved. Always the musician, he is now singing songs of praise to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, with the rest of the heavenly chorus!

Charlie was preceded in death by his wife of 62 years, Charlotte, his parents, sister, and brothers.
Mr. Thrussell liked righting wrongs. Lifting up the weak, the downtrodden. And above all Mr. Thrussell was a giver. He was alot like Don Quixote in these areas, and that book and the play always reminded me of him.
Filled with indignation at man's hateful ways toward man, he ponders the problem: How to make better a world where evil brings profit and virtue none at all; where fraud and deceit are mingled with truth and sincerity. He conceives the strangest project ever imagined.... to become a knight-errant, and sally forth into the world in search of adventures; to mount a crusade; to raise up the weak and those in need....

"Hear me now, all you serpents and servants of sin, all your dastardly doings are past. For a holy endeavor is now to begin, and virtue shall triumph at last..."
He wanted virtue to triumph and took steps where he could, to assist it. But what I really took from him was more like this:
To dream ... the impossible dream ...
To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...
To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...
To run ... where the brave dare not go ...
To right ... the unrightable wrong ...
To try ... when your arms are too weary ...
To reach ... the unreachable star ...

This is my quest, to follow that star ...
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ...
To fight for the right, without question or pause ...
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ...

And I know if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest,
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm,
when I'm laid to my rest ...
And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach ... the unreachable star ...




He was true to his quest, and I have no doubt his heart was peaceful and calm when he was laid to his rest.

To his family, I offer my apologies for missing the funeral - I'd learned about it too late, it was already a done deal. But ya know...

I couldn't be there with you, but I've left you these few notes.






To the reader - Wouldn't the world be a much better place if there were alot more people like Mr. Thrussell? I know for sure my world was a better place with him in it.

What we can do is what he did. What you leave behind is what's important. Be a giver, be a fighter for what's right. And please, whether it be musical or written, or even just verbal, or even all three...

Leave a few notes.
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