The Spring of 1973.
50 years have elapsed since the spring of 1973. It marked the end of my High School education and the beginning of the road toward becoming a professional musician. For me, the moment began two years earlier when I entered Patterson High school in East Baltimore. In my 10th grade year, I had the opportunity to hear and work with wonderful trumpeters like Ray Disney and Don Drobiz who were then seniors. Playing next to them made me want to perform at a higher level. We were blessed to have a wonderful band director in Clarence Wroblewski who was a kind and patient a gentleman as I’ve ever met.
During the summers of my High School years, I attended a Summer Enrichment program at Western High School. I played in the Concert Band, Stage Band (Jazz Ensemble) and Broadway musical shows. When I entered 11th grade, I was accepted into the Peabody Summer Youth Project which was open to Baltimore City High School students. Over 4-6 weeks I received trumpet lessons from James Hustis, music theory lessons from Ray Sprenkle and played in a brass ensemble directed by Alan Kefauver. This program, sponsored by Baltimore City and Peabody, was free to those accepted. I also got in some orchestral trumpet playing with the Maryland Youth Symphony under Angelo Gatto. A terrific trumpeter I sat next to was Jeffery Silberslag who went on to be a wonderful orchestral and solo trumpeter and conductor. In the summer before my senior year, I was accepted into the Peabody Preparatory Department.
This intense course led me to believe I could audition for the Peabody Conservatory for fall 1973 session. I studied hard in the Peabody Preparatory (my trumpet teacher was Ronnie Bange, whose great playing and cigar smoking influenced me) and tried to get through the theory and ear training as best as I could. I had already done some arranging but found music theory an art form that I needed to tackle.
I was blessed to not only play in band at school and at Peabody, but also play with a local Polka Band, The Royal Cavaliers led by a schoolmate Gary Zawodny. The band played Polish polkas and dance band music. This helped develop my ear and trumpet chops plus I had the opportunity to arrange tunes for the band. We gigged almost every weekend, sometimes three a weekend.
Along with gigging was my involvement with a Salvation Army Church in East Baltimore. My good friend, Gloria Moore, got me to not only play, but arrange the score for their Christmas musical, “It’s The Lord’s Thing” by Lani Smith. Gloria played horn in the Patterson High Band and we drove to school together each day with her friend who owned a Corvair. She was a great musical influence in my life. Her playing on horn and piano plus her kind temperament was a stabilizing part of my life during my senior year of High School.
I had many friends during my senior year. John Freyer who played Clarinet and Tenor Sax was a close buddy and we shared many musical experiences together. Our friendship had formed during Junior High School when we did clarinet and baritone horn duets. His Mom drove us to summer programs at Western High. He is still a dear friend today.
Linda Walter, on whom I had a great crush, was my intellectual guide. She was a good writer and an extremely smart person. I was so smitten with her despite our different political leanings (I called her Libby or Linda Lib). I remember gathering Virginia Slim cigarette coupons (I didn’t smoke) to get her a gift. She was my date at the Senior Prom 50 years ago and married a great guy from Patterson who is also an Air Force Veteran. Another close friend was Shirley Hunt, whom we unfortunately lost last year. Other Pattersonite musicians with whom I had a friendship were Marc DiPasquale (future Frat Brother), David Russell and his brother Benny, and Steve Whettle who would follow me into Peabody. Patterson produced some fine musicians over the years, many who still perform! I am still friends (after 50 years!) with some classmates, many who were found via social media.
I should mention that I had wonderful teachers at Patterson during my time there. Although I was an average student, I was blessed with some really fine academic instructors who went out of their way to push me through. I should also mention I had a great home life with my Mom who supported all my musical activities, and wonderful siblings whom I cherish to this day.
My audition for Peabody came in February 1973 and several weeks later I received a letter from the Registrar stating I had been accepted into the Conservatory for the 73 fall semester. This was great news and a wonderful gift. I could hardly believe that I was going to a world renowned institute for music.
My parents had purchased a trumpet (a Selmer DeVille) for me in the 9th grade and I was saving up to purchase instruments I would need for Conservatory training-a professional model B Flat and C trumpet. Plus, there were the daunting tuition costs that lay ahead. I had been offered a partial scholarship and now applied for a Maryland State scholarship. Patterson’s Principal, Frank Robey, also helped me secure some money from Baltimore City. I will always be grateful for that. Robey, who also served as a Maryland Sate Delegate, would follow my career over the years and occasionally write me.
After receiving the letter of acceptance to Peabody, I thought I was going to be in for an easy last semester of High School. After all, I was all set. However, while sitting in class before the Spring break, the door to the room was suddenly filled by a large figure. Ronald “Moose” Siegert was our senior class guidance counselor and he beckoned me to follow him to his office.
Moose had been a football player in his youth and cast quite an imposing figure around Patterson. Once we got to his office, he told me that he knew about my acceptance to Peabody and asked me what my plans were until the fall semester began. Before I could say anything, he told me that Peabody was going to be expensive and I was going to need to earn as much money as possible. He pulled out paperwork for a work permit (if you were under 18 you needed one to work in the city) and told me he had lined up a job for me after school. The job would become full-time in the summer. This worked out fine as Patterson High was on split shifts and I could attend school in the morning and work afternoons 1-5 downtown. The job was to start in the spring around May.
Christmastime at Patterson was always busy. Our Christmas concert featured an arrangement of White Christmas, to which I wrote out instrumental parts. The Choir and Band traveled downtown to perform in Charles Center and we performed at civic clubs in Highlandtown. Marking the season were the annual performances of Amahl and the Night Visitors and Handel’s Messiah. Pretty hefty stuff for a High School, but we had a great music department.
After the Christmas/New Year break, the last semester at Patterson began. There were band concerts and I started to sit in the choir to get a little experience with vocal music. The Choir Director, Helen Bush, encouraged me and I even did a vocal chart for the Clipper Choir on “What The World Needs Now Is Love.” Hugh Carey, the other music teacher, was also an influence on me. He grabbed me to play at his downtown church on Sundays.
Patterson High had four music teachers during my time there. Taylor Harvey, a wonderful organist, was there only for my sophomore year but got me to turn pages for him at concerts he did with local church choirs. I learned how to read scores real fast…lol And I got to hear first rate ensembles and choirs in the Baltimore area.
There were many Senior Class activities and I was spending my weekends attending the Peabody Preparatory and playing with the Royal Cavaliers. As March 1973 approached, everyone preparing for the Spring production of Hello Dolly. Auditions were held for parts and band members would play in the orchestra pit. It was an exceptionally well-done show, and a great way to finish off the school year prior to final exams.
After the production, I started my afterschool job. Every day I traveled downtown to work at Hochschild Kohn Department store. Founded in 1897 by Max Hochschild and brothers Benno and Louis Kohn, Hochschild Kohn was one of the first of Baltimore’s big department stores. I worked in the nearby warehouse on the top floor, in the fur storage department. At that time (1970s) women would bring their fur coats to the warehouse to be cleaned and stored for the summer. My job was to inventory and hang the coats up in the large vaults. And there were hundreds…My boss and co-workers were wonderful and I enjoyed working there. It was difficult for me to leave in August due to the relationship formed with those great folks, but I did manage to save up a lot of money for school.
Somehow during all this time, I managed to date a few girls I knew from school and some I met on polka band gigs. I attended the Senior Prom with Linda Walter which was held at Hunt Valley. Playing at the prom was a Big Band instead of a rock group so the affair had a little bit of tradition to it. I even managed to talk to the band leader and got to sit in with them!
Graduation in June 1973 was a great experience. First came the Aloha program at Patterson, then the formal Graduation ceremony.
Graduation was held at the Baltimore Civic Center (now the CFG Bank Arena) due to the large class (about 1000).
As always, brass players from the band performed Battle Hymn of the Republic with the Patterson Clipper Choir. Any student who graduated from Patterson between 1940 and 1990 knew all the words by heart and can still to this day sing their part of the famous Wilhousky arrangement.
The summer was a real rush. I worked at Hochschild Kohn, put my checks into the bank (my mom helped oversee my account), practiced the trumpet and played gigs with the polka band. In August, I left the job (they threw a nice little party for me) and took a little time off before starting at Peabody. I was pretty excited about the new experiences that lay ahead.
I can still remember the morning in late August 1973 when I left the house to attend the first Peabody orientation meeting. I stood at the end of the sidewalk and thought about the Chinese proverb “the longest journey begins with a single step”
50 years later….Peabody, Kent State University, Teaching, The US Air Force Band, UMBC, The Maryland Military Department, JV Music, Taps Bugler, Taps For Veterans, Taps Across America…etc etc etc
And all the wonderful people who have come into my life
Where does the next adventure lie? STAY TUNED…..