Band memories

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2005

When I turned to page two of the Tuesday, February 15, R-C News-Herald, I was surprised and delighted to read that Christopher Pattishall, a senior at Charles E. Jordan High School in Durham, recently received a prestigious national young jazz composer award in NYC.

The article went on to say that Christopher is a life-long resident of Durham and a product of its public schools, a former member of the middle school jazz band, and a player in the Jordan High School Combo. I'm sure that his family and schoolmates are very proud of this handsome young man and his accomplishments. Many readers may remember Christopher's mother O'Shella Gatling, an Ahoskie High graduate, and his grandparents Lee and Hester Gatling of Ahoskie.

Ironically, just under the Pattishall article there was a local news piece related to high school music. The Hertford County Band Boosters have launched a campaign to raise $43,000 for new band uniforms. I'm certain that these young musicians need new uniforms and want to look their best in parades and half-time performances.

Reading these two articles brought to mind my own band days at Ahoskie High. All of my band memories center around two adults, two of my life-long favorite people. The first is Bob "BeBop" Brown, my band master from the fourth grade till graduation.

For the readers who were not fortunate enough to know Mr. Brown, may I say that he was an intelligent, fascinating, and unique spirit, always animated and enthused the center of my music life at school and at church.

Many would agree that Bob Brown, who could play many instruments well, was the most popular teacher at school, and he attracted children and teens just like the pied piper. He began teaching our class instruments when we were nine years old, and many of us played in his band until we graduated.

Also, when we were in the seventh grade, he spotted potential and selected our class, about 65-75 students, to be his chorus. We practiced and boy did we have fun! The four-part music sounded great once he had polished us up a bit, and we performed at school, for PTA and class programs. Then in May of the eighth grade, we were asked to sing at the 1954 class graduation. (Although I didn't know him at the time, my husband was one of those wearing caps and gowns).

Well, that experience built up our confidence. We sang all through high school at clubs and church revivals. Then in 1958 we sang "I'll walk with God" for our families and friends at our own graduation.

During band at fifth period, I remember marching on the field, making formations, all the while playing the clarinet, counting off my steps, and trying hard not to drop my music as I turned and stopped in my spot. Our class had no state football championship, but Bob Brown stated that during those years, he had a great band and an excellent trombone section.

Everything that we did in the band was made possible mainly because of the dedication and generosity of one of our band fathers W.H. Basnight. Of course all of the parents helped and attended our performances, but Daddy Basnight, as he was affectionately called by many, paid for uniforms, instruments, music, and Trailways bus rentals so that we could perform in parades in North Carolina and Virginia and support our team at out-of-town ball games all over North Carolina.

If a child wanted to play in the band but couldn't afford the instrument, Mr. Basnight bought it for him/her without anyone knowing. His kind generosity has become legendary. Mr. Basnight simply wanted every child to have an equal opportunity to learn music, to play the desired instrument, and to have fun doing so.

I can remember going to Raleigh for a parade on Saturday morning and on the way seeing a large carnival set up just off the highway. At once all the children became excited and wished out loud that we could go, knowing that we'd be late if we did.

Mr. Basnight, who was on our bus which was carrying the younger students, said for us to perform well and on the way back home we could go to the carnival. We did our best in the parade, and on our return trip our two buses pulled into the carnival parking area. While we watched out the windows, Mr. B went to the booth and bought a roll of tickets which he put on his left arm like a huge bracelet.

Then as each child stepped off the bus, Daddy B rolled off five or six tickets and put them in the small eager hands. Then he went to the high school bus and did the same. He never assumed that the children or teens would have pocket change. He always provided for all the students equally.

Actually I speak of the band as children because Howard Basnight died in December 1954 when our class was in the eighth grade. However, the seniors, the juniors and everyone loved him as we did. Although he didn't live to see us graduate, his generosity continued for years after his death.

I recalled our band days when I heard the Hertford County High Band in concert on Joe Howard Day in the spring of 2003. Wow! Their performance was excellent. Now we need a Daddy Basnight to step up and support these young people as they dream of doing their best with an equal opportunity for all.

Since few have the means or the generosity of Mr. Basnight, I challenge you to join me in mailing a check payable to HCHSBB Uniform Fund. Drop it off or mail it to RBC Centura (P.O. Box 887, Ahoskie) or (P.O. Box 67, Murfreesboro).

Remember studies show that reading music increases mathematical skills, but more important than that, your check will show your support for a young musician whom you might not even know. As Wordsworth said, that young musician will carry that band music in his heart long after the notes are played. Don't disappoint those young people. Our caring can change lives.