Monday, October 10, 2011

Tequila & Manor

I spent 38 years as a band director in Texas and Oklahoma.  I took a couple years off after I left Amarillo Tascosa.   I never should have gone to that school - the previous guy had been there forever.  It is tough to follow legends - or anyone who is considered to be a legend by the locals.  But, enough of that.

I got out of the biz for a while.   Eventually after a couple of re-entry band jobs in north Texas, I decided it was time to move south. . . anywhere south.  So I drew a circle around Austin and sent out letters.  I did learn a lesson that year:  never quit a job before you have another one in your pocket.  So, I sent out the letters.  June passed.   July was passing.   I went to TBA convention.  Found nothing.  I was almost in a panic.  The wife still had her job, so it was not a disaster yet.

Then, the phone rang.  This principal invited me down to interview in Manor.  For those who don't know, Manor is the school district that goes up against Austin ISD on the east side.  Austin east side is not the best - the Cadillac area - I didn't care.  It was a small 2A school out in the country.  The Principal seemed nice  (Steve Michail - rats, I forgot how to spell his name).  He was a good guy - and the superintendent, George Jett,  was an older guy who was terrific.  I liked them both -

It was August.  The previous guy split and gave them little notice.  They hired someone who failed to materialize.  They were in trouble and  frankly I had a pretty good resume.  They had a band director for 12 years. Joe Michel, who was good.  He built the 2A band up and did a great job.  Joe got sidewise with a couple of people and - as we all do at times - figured out it was time to find a better job.   Philosophy:  As in Joe's case, it is the director who makes the job good - not the school.  Sure, administrators can kill you - but Joe had it together.

So what did Manor do.  They went to UT and hired a first year teacher - a drummer no less.  Not all drummers are kooks, but there are more kooks in the drum section than other places.  This guy (something  Janez - spelling off again)  Yanez  - that is it.  I met him a week after I took the job at the TMEA region meeting.  Introduced myself - and the first thing out of his mouth was to correct the way I said his name - arrogant little twirp.  

Yanez had inherited a 80 to 90 piece 2A band from Joe and it dwindled down to 23 on my first day.  He was a killer.  the kids told me that he would take them out to play baseball and generally just let them do what they wanted.  That may not be true - beats me - wasn't there.  Arrogant little twirp.  I had to restart his beginners on page one of the first book they were so lost.  Arrogant little twirp.

So I took over a 23 piece 2A band...grade 8 through 12.  That is a large 2A by the way.  I revised their marching style as best I could - looked for music that they could play - and created our first halftime show.   It was not a home game.   Frankly, we did very little in our plan - but we didn't just stand there and play.

We have all been there.  The band went on the field and after an appropriate amount of time - fell apart.  They were in the middle of the field completely lost - stopped playing.  It was not good.    I was on the sideline - nothing else to do.  I went on the field and marched them straight off the field.  I was furious.  They were off the field on the visitor side - I was standing on the home side.  I took off around the field - I was going to read them a riot act and a half.

At that moment, near the goal post, I met my Mr. Jett, my new Superintendent.  He stuck out his hand and congratulated me and said some other things which were brilliant.  He taught me in that few seconds that it was not the end of the world, and he was proud of them.  They had done a pretty good job - I calmed and greeted the kids with a much different attitude.  We were better the next week, and all 23 were still enrolled.

So the year went by.   I think we squeaked out a II at marching contest - squeak is a good word.  Some of those 23 were fabulous kids.   It may have been a III - who can remember?  Not me.

Of course the football team was good.  Of course.  You have a marching band with issues, and you want to end the year after 10 games -- N A H !!  THE TEAM IS REALLY GOOD.  So we went into playoffs.  Contest is over.  Nobody wants to spend hours outside practicing marching.  We are all tired.   It is time to get it over - the first extra game (forget who we played) was out of town in Gonzales.  They had a pretty good stadium for smaller school playoffs.

We had an easy arrangement of Tequila in the folder - I had a vision.  Pee Wee Herman had just done his movie with his Tequila dance on the bar -- it was popular.   So -- We do the first routine from our contest show - do a quick shuffle of people to make a long line in the center of the field -- Play the first part of Tequila -  Create a short dance step to the Tequila beat, letting the drummers make up something while the band does minimal dance steps  (I had a couple of good drummers - one named Kim Orts who is now a deputy sherrif in Austin who could do just about anything)  -- finish the song - make a  big  " M "  and get off the field.  Most of this could be practiced inside.
now store that away.
One of my 23 band members was a kid named Ernie.  Ernie was a skinny black kid who was a special educ. student.  He had problems - somewhat functional.   I could not understand what he said ever.  The kids had all gone to school with Ernie since grade one and liked him - even though he was a bit of a problem to guide.  At ballgames, boys would take turns - unasked by the way - to escort Ernie to the restroom or concession stand.  It was really nice.

Ernie couldn't play an instrument at all.  He was just there for marching season.  We took a cymbal and mounted it on a stand.  I gave him two soft mallets and he kept time on the sidelines.  Everyone liked Ernie.   It made me nervous, but that was okay.  Frankly, taking Ernie out of town on trips was a responsibilty which should not have happened to me - untrained as I am in the special education area ...
Back to Tequila.
We learned the dance and could play the music.  Ernie was on the sidelines.   I was afraid that I would be fussed at if I didn't keep Ernie controlled.   So, before the half, I told Ernie to just stand there and play the cymbal.  Don't do what the band is doing.  Don't dance.   Just stand.  Ernie said okay.

For the first part of the song, he stood there.  As the dancing started, Ernie started to wiggle.   He couldn't help himself.   Before long he was dancing on the sidelines.   He brought the house down.  The Manor fans loved and knew Ernie.  He was a sensation.   The band did a good job.  We received a standing ovation from the crowd.  That helped our attitudes a lot.

Did I mention the team was good.  They won the game & I had another week of marching.  What to do.  I ain't no fool.   We were going back to Gonzales for the 2nd game.   I figured, why fight it.  We did the same show week #2.   Once again Ernie was great.  It made me nervous, but nobody said one word about exploiting him.  It was another standing ovation.  Did I mention the other bands were obviously disturbed because we were doing a dance?  I have learned since then that other band students will always be jealous if your band gets to dance on the field.  That may seem dumb, but it is true.

That was my first Tequila year in Manor.  Year two came - I have already told you that I ain't no fool.  The kids wanted to do Tequila again.  We expanded the routine - put in a free style section where the kids had 32 counts to dance what they chose - and it was a hit again.  Ernie was right there performing with us.

I was in Manor for 13 years.  We did Tequila - with variations - all 13 years.  After a while, some other bands would try to dance at the last game - they never figured it out.   It became the tradition to use it for the last home game.   The poor cluck who followed me into Manor was pushed into continuing.   My 13th marching year was in 2003.   It is now 2011 and they still do Tequila.   I would apologize, but would that help?

Little side bit.  It was so important to the Seniors each year.  One year a senior - who had failed a class and was ineligible to be on the field - jumped the stadium fence and danced with the band even though he knew he would be in major trouble.  He spent the rest of the semester in the in-school suspension. 
That's it.

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