Roger Wagner and Dave Garroway

Proof of the quality of my choir came rather quickly. I had my first All State Choir Member, Martha Amis, my very first year. All Region and All State choirs were well represented for years to come. The choir was invited to record a special Christmas Concert at KHOU television in Houston. In the spring, I challenged Roger Wagner to come and hear my choir while he and his Chorale were in town, appearing at Texas A&M’s Town Hall series. He took me up on my challenge and not only came to give an impromptu clinic for my group, but had his entire Chorale come and sing with them. He paid them a great compliment when he said, “I’ve ,worked with high school choirs all over the world, but I must admit that this is without a doubt the best one I’ve heard”. He had told me that if the choir was not as good as advertised, I would owe him $250. I didn’t have to pay)  

The crowning achievement of that year was the invite to represent Texas Rotarians at their international convention in New York City in June. We also were the first high school choir to perform ‘live’ on NBC’s “Today”, hosted by Dave Garroway. That invitation came from pressure by our then Congressman Olin Teague. The choir did very well in spite of difficulties planned and executed by Garroway. He didn’t want to take a chance with of bad performance by an ‘amatuer’ group. Later, he admitted his mistake and apologized. I also turned down an invitation to have my choir appear as special guests of “The Rockets” at Radio City Music Hall for a ten week run. They could only use forty voices and there was no way I would leave thirty-two of my choir at home.

Upon returning home, I was called into the Superintendent’s Office and instead of being thankful for a very successful trip with students, He said,”Don’t let this go to your head, Jim. Choir isn’t king here, it’s Football!” I never showed him the stack of mail I received from all over the world.

Barbara Walters was Garroway’s Production Assistant and she picked the choir up in twenty-six cabs to carry us to Radio City from our hotel. She told me that our few minutes on national television meant hundreds of thousands of dollars to Bryan/College Station, and all that publicity simply overshadowed ‘precious’ football. Not much was made of Roger Wagner’s visit, either.

(When Bryan built the Civic Auditorium, Band, Choir and Musical Productions had as many in attendance as football games)

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

And, that’s what I get from MY box of chocolates.      AMEN

Erasing “Elite-ism”

Regardless of the successful year, I am certain the 1959 graduates in my choir did not really like me much. I was determined to bring the ‘ethereal’ attitude down to earth. Members of the A Cappella choir thought they were a bit better than others since they ‘belonged’ to a very fine choral group. The first thing I did was to change the repertoire from high church and classical to more “show biz”. I also ended the self adoration that resulted in the ‘Annual Awards Banquet’ that included former choir members as guests. I did retain the tradition of asking them to join the choir each time we sang our “Benediction” at the end of our concerts. I got into trouble when I cancelled the ‘annual’ Christmas Concert at the Bryan/College Station Women’s Club (for good reason). Just as the A Cappella choir felt about themselves, membership into the Women’s Club was by invitation only. When a lady was admitted, she had ‘arrived’. The invitation to perform included “Formal Dress”. I had one young lady who simply didn’t have a formal dress, so she was ‘loaned’ a beautiful dress by one of the choir members.  As we were introduced, the President proudly announced that the daughter of one of the members had been kind enough provide required dress and went so far as to ‘introduce’ both young ladies. That was the final appearance by the SFA choir at the B/CS Women’s Club. Needless to say, I was furious. but, that was the way many of the Bryanites felt about who ‘they’ were.(My biggest concern was that my action had most likely destroyed any chance that my wife would be accepted as a member, but she shared my feelings, so it was just fine). Two big events highlighted that first year in Bryan. Both were especially unique and quite memorable. (Stay Tuned)

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

And, that’s what I get from MY box of chocolates.      AMEN

The Dungeon

The Stephen F. Austin High School faculty met in the gymnasium and from there others dispersed to their various classrooms. (It was our first day to meet each other and it felt pretty strange. Marilyn and I were unknown quantities, much more than other ‘new’ faculty members simply because we had joined ‘after’ all the others had gathered in training. We had a lot to learn.) My first up-close-and-personal conversation with Principal H Wilson “Cheesy” Cook was held on the top row of the gymnasium while others were going to their classroom. It was common knowledge that the SFA choir program was excellent. From the early 30’s, when Dr. Euell Porter first organized the group, they were traditionally top notch. I had also been warned that choir members were expected to “read” and were selected by audition. I was also told that there was always a shortage of boys so it was easier for them to be chosen if the could match a pitch. Football players loved choir since it was a rather easy credit and they could pretty well do as they wished. Cheesy let me know just how the way things were to go right away. He said, “Austin, I don’t give a damn if you can direct our choir or not. I got you along with your fine wife and her reputation for being outstanding in physical education. Your predecessor couldn’t control the football boys. He had a great choir, but he was a bust as a disciplinarian! I want you to know that if I have one more of those young men brought to my office due to your lack of control, I will personally kick your butt of my campus. I am not a fan of “singing’, anyway.” (H Wilson Cook was an “All American” tackle while attending Texas University and he meant it)  I knew I could direct ‘his’ choir and I was not concerned that I would not be able to control the ‘football boys’. The choir and band met in the basement of the building, shared with the entire administration department of Bryan Public Schools. The band had windows, but the choir room had only a large window fan, thus I referred to it as “The Dungeon”.

My first day was interesting. I had not been involved in athletics in high school, but had been very successful as a member of our boxing team. I was awarded a ‘golden glove’ and took it, a quart bottle of milk with a nipple contrived from a plastic glove, a triangle shaped sheet and very large safety pin. I checked the role and displayed the glove and ‘diaper’. I said, “I am directed by Mr Cook to ‘never’ send one of you to the office for misbehavior. I want you to know you’d rather go bear hunting with a switch than mess with me. You do not frighten me and if you try any of your ‘traditional’ pranks, I will do everything in my power to pin this diaper and pop the ‘baby bottle’ in your mouth”. I held my breath and was relieved to see that they seemed to believe me. 

Carl J. Best had left me one of the most excellent high school choirs anywhere. I was in hog-heaven! I never had a problem with discipline and thought it evidence of my disciplinary excellence. (Later I had that bubble burst, however). 

That story and more about the 1958-59 Stephen F. Austin A Cappella Choir and other stories coming up.

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

And, that’s what I get from MY box of chocolates.      AMEN

From Guard Shack to Choir Room

It was the end of summer, 1958. School was about to open and we were about to move into Plant Housing at Lone Star Steel, just outside Daingerfield, Texas when I accepted a call from Charles Lindsay at Sam Houston State in Huntsville. I had been working as a guard at the plant for just about a year and had determined to make it my permanent job when the call came. We had just begun removing our belongings from a rented trailer when my mother called my duplex neighbor to tell me to call Mr. Lindsay. That was the best phone call I had ever received.

Bryan Public Schools was about to begin the 1958 school year and had just lost two high school teachers who just happened to teach what Marilyn and I had majored in at Sam. The school was desperate and offered us the positions, sight unseen. We repacked the trailer and off we went to teach school in Bryan, Texas. 

Time was short so the school had located a rental and made arrangements at First National Bank for any emergency loan we may have needed. We drove to Bryan, arriving late in the afternoon, signed teaching agreements, got keys to a house and a letter of credit at First National Bank. We even missed all the pre-school meetings by the staff. Marilyn settled in teaching girls Physical Education and Health and I began directing choirs in Jones Junior High, Lamar Junior High and Stephen F. Austin High. I taught music to two classes in each of the Junior Highs and a Choral Music Class and Study Hall at SFA. I got along well with two of the administrators, but never could do so with one. Fortunately, my second year changed to two choirs and a study hall at SFA and two choirs and office duty at Lamar. Mornings at high school and afternoon at junior high. I also was given the assignment of public address for high school football as well as announcing half-time for the Bronco Band. Teaching choral music was the most satisfying experience of my entire life. I will begin telling you why tomorrow.

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

And, that’s what I get from MY box of chocolates.      AMEN

The Star in the Window

During World War II, families with sons in military service dreaded the Western Union “boy on his bicycle” to arrive at their home with a telegram from the War Department or the Navy Department. The message began: The Secretary of War (for soldiers and airmen) or Secretary of Navy (for sailors and marines), regrets to inform you that [name, rank, and serial number of the man in the military service] was killed in action (or missing in action).

 In both world wars, families were issued a “Blue Star” flag for each member in military service to be placed in a front window of their home. Western Union had “Delivery Boys on Bikes” to carry telegrams in those days. In wartime, the entire neighborhood held its breath as the uniformed youngster on a bike rode down the street to inform families of their sacrifice. Each blue star was then changed to a gold one. A gold star in that window told of the ultimate sacrifice each family had made. 

The ‘Gold Star’ is in the news again. Terrorism has raised its ugly head and families continue to pay the price for heroism in the field of battle. What with ‘war games’ and violence depicted so prominently, we simply shrug it off. We have become insensitive to just what makes America great. There is a reason so many are determined to come to our shores. We ARE the last frontier of Freedom and there are those who wish to change that. Some were born here and that is tragic. It is a shame that our children grow into adults without the truth of what it cost to do so. The “Disrespect Club” has a lot of members, donchaknow. Really.

By the Way, just over 1000 illegal immigrants entered Texas at El Paso this week. Outmanned and outnumbered, our Border Patrol couldn’t stop it! If this isn’t an emergency situation, please tell me what is?

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

And, that’s what I get from MY box of chocolates.      AMEN

How’s It Goin’?

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

My family has undertaken one difficulty after another in the past days and yet trials abound. My eldest took another tumble and this time it was a left wrist. Surgery on Thursday and much prayer time would be appreciated. I have been released by my wound Doctor and have lost fourteen pounds (mostly fluid, donchaknow). But, alas here comes a need for The Comforter, again. Nothing seems to escape those who Love Jesus, thus the verse from My Savior’s half-brother comes in handy. The old hymn, “By and By” comes to mind “In Times Like These”, and Believers simply Praise God, The Provider, for all of it. This is where our Faith comes in and all counts as good. Sounds rather dumb to many, but unless you can count on a seat at The Heavenly Table, it doesn’t make sense. 

I awakened to another Blessed day here in Plano, with “All God’s Children” from Brenham, Texas on my mind. These precious young folk and I toured Methodist Churches from Texas to Tennessee, including an appearance in Dolly Parton’s lovely Pigeon Forge. Pastor John Derr and I, along with a number of parents, toured for days, singing praises for all who gathered at each church. He and I took turns driving our Church Bus and it was a Hoot! It was just another of those times when I held ‘moonbeams’ in my hand. “Precious Memories” that time cannot erase. These have seen me through some pretty difficult days, but Praise God! They don’t last long!

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

And, that’s what I get from MY box of chocolates.      AMEN