Dickie Conducts Himself Well

The PTA meeting ended and assorted parents and teachers returned from the Home Economics building to the Chapel in the High School; they towed the little children behind them. The elementary and high school kids were already there; we’d been treated to a movie. All of us waited to hear a concert.

That year, the Methodist Church of the North sent to Pittman Center a bonus teacher, a second music teacher. Poor Miss Wakeman must have felt sad indeed to think the Elders had to send another music teacher, because for years she had been the only one needed. But there we were, graced with Ms. Yokum. Miss Wakeman continued to teach the high school chorus. She gave me piano lessons as well, but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what she did with the rest of her time.

Ms. Yokum directed the marching band (another quite wonderful story, indeed). She taught some music over in the elementary school as well, especially a rhythm band. And that is where we came in, that night.  For our concert. The rhythm band soon would play.

The parents, little tykes in hand and still talking to each other, came into the Chapel and found seats in a clutch. The elementary students ran down to the front rows. They flapped the seats up and down, moved from one to another, not sure of the greater importance: to be able to see better, or to be next to the most popular person. Seventh and eighth graders inched in almost sideways. They had no difficulty with that question—obviously, proximity to the popular person held priority, but who was it, that minute? The young adults of high school age either sauntered in alone, as they looked for prey, or oozed through the door molded together, already hunted down and lost—they thought—forever. Finally, the faculty closed ranks and shut the doors to signal silence.

All eyes front. Silence ruled beyond the dark, dusty curtain. I’d been there in that beyond; I knew the floorboards creaked, the dust rose up and filled your nostrils, the curtain actually stunk. But when it opened…. When it opened….  It didn’t matter….  You were….  On stage!

Creak. Groan. The curtain slowly rose. Two rows of chairs stretched primly across the stage, eight chairs in each row. A music stand stood before the rows. It seemed so short, that music stand. Not on a long stem, like the one at the festival in Knoxville….  Shhh…. Rustling off to our left. Here they came!  The Rhythm Band.

Sixteen elementary school students. Tambourines, tom toms, sticks, rattles—all those little things I do not know what they are called. I had never been in a rhythm band. Each kid stood before a chair, silent. When they were all in place, somber, the final kid walked in. Eight-year old Dickie. In The Blue Suit, with the white shirt I’d ironed that afternoon and the red bow tie, and not a golden blond hair out of place. He looked so somber, so dignified, so smooth, you would think he wore a tuxedo. He strode up to the music stand, dipped his head, lifted his hands, held them up, and then lowered them until his band all were seated.

I had goose-bumps on my arms so big my sleeves trembled.

It was one of the few times that Chapel knew absolute silence. When he felt sure, Dickie raised his arms again. The members of the band stood and lifted up their instruments. At exactly the right moment, Dickie made that little flick of his wrist, and the music began.

Music it was! I sit here now, fifty-seven years later, to tell you I have been in great concert halls. I have heard famous people play famous music. I have seen famous conductors. I have even sung under the direction of one of them and been good friends with another. But I have never seen nor heard a more professionally conducted performance in my life.

Dickie, that Golden Boy brother of mine, had music in his soul. It had to pour through his veins and filter through his bones as it did through those of our father and it does through mine. I do not know about my other brothers. They do not speak of this, and none of them have acted on it. I know only what I saw that night. Dickie had found his element. Not only did he stand and wave his baton, he called in individual instruments and players. He leaned into the task; he begged them for more. He held out his hand to a section, to ask them to show restraint, and his restraint evinced perfection. When the time came to go a little bit faster, he enthused (he would!), and they all were happy together.

At the end of the third piece, he bowed to the band and seated them, then turned to us, his audience. He bowed with such courtliness we found it impossible to believe him anything but a prince. He turned and, with a small smile, walked proudly off stage. The applause of the audience of fewer than fifty deafened even the youngest among us.

After an hour, my sleeves relaxed and my cheeks were dry. I sat tall and proud of that Golden Boy. Richard!

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