Sepia Saturday – A Parade of Musical Memories

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. 

This week’s prompt dates from 1915 and shows Scottish soldiers at the entrance to their hut on the Western Front. The photo suggests several themes and I was torn between men wearing flat hats or music. Music won.

I’ll begin with a picture of my mom in her high school band uniform. Mom  played French horn at Ottumwa High School in Ottumwa, Iowa. I don’t recall ever hearing Mom play an instrument of any kind, but she looks proud and dignified in her uniform.



















Mom and I lived with her parents when I was young and the person I do remember playing an instrument at home is my grandfather, who played the harmonica. I always felt happy when he got out his harmonica and played a few tunes and I danced around the small living room to his music. The Tennessee Waltz comes to mind. (I’ve included a link to Patti Page singing it at the end of the post. She passed away a couple of days ago. Grandpa played it at a faster tempo.)

In this picture he is playing along with my cousin one Christmas, probably 1978, so grandpa would have been about 82. Wish I had been there to enjoy their music making.


My own music-making began on a sour note. When I was in 1st grade, my teacher asked if we had a piano at home. I told her that we did, although no one played it. She instructed me to have my mother play the C scale for me every day and that I should sing along. I’ve never heard of anyone else assigned singing homework in the first grade, so I must have sung terribly off key!

In the 4th grade we were living in Great Bend, KS and I was excited to learn that I had the option of learning to play a band instrument at school. I wondered what instrument I should play – maybe the French horn like my mother?

That was a decision I didn’t get to make. Dad(Jim) came home one day with a used cornet. Decision made. If I wanted to play an instrument, this was what I would play. It was shiny – in a few places – and came pre-dented.

I always knew that the cornet and I were not really a good match. I didn’t have the chops for it. My embouchure was inadequate. I had trouble with the high notes. But that old horn and I played together through my sophomore year in college.

Another move landed us in Joplin, MO. In junior high, all of my electives were music – band, orchestra and choir (I had mastered singing on pitch by then). Hal Barlow directed both the band and orchestra and I took private lessons from him after school. (Mr. Barlow died a little over a year ago and I was so tempted to insert the picture from his obituary. Here it is, if you’d like a look. It’s just as I remember him.)

My lesson was scheduled after one or two others, so I would wait in the band hall. I told Mr. Barlow that I might like to be a band director one day and would like to try out some other instruments. He gave me simple instructions for fingering and technique and provided music whenever I showed an interest in a particular instrument and allowed me to play the school instruments while I waited. Timpani, cello, and French horn are the ones I remember. Sometimes he gave me the sample scores and records he received in the mail.

I loved playing in the band and orchestra but hated solos. My mouth would get so dry that I feared I couldn’t produce a sound. Once I lost the music to a solo I was scheduled to play at a school concert and Mr. Barlow accused me of losing it on purpose. I didn’t – although I would have liked never to have found it.

(I tried to embed google maps street view here, but can’t make it work. Don’t know what I’m doing wrong!)

I was usually 2nd or 3rd chair (those difficult high notes kept me out of 1st chair) and the first three chairs of the trumpet section stood at intersecting hallways on the 2nd floor of South Junior High at the beginning of every school day to play To the Colors. The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag followed our echoing call to attention.

South Junior High School was hit by the Joplin tornado and has been demolished. It was not in use at the time of the tornado.

We moved to Texas in the fall of my junior in high school. Friday nights in small towns in Texas mean one thing – football. If not for band, my friendless “new kid” self would have been sitting home alone for weeks on end. Instead I was at the football games, surrounded by people, not in need of a date, riding the school bus to out-of-town games, chanting “Um! um gawa! Tigers got the powa!” and making friends.

Texas was a bit of a culture shock for me, having spent all of my life in the midwest. When we arrived in 1969, there were two high schools in town. Although there were a few black students at the school I attended, there were no white students at the other high school. A new high school was being built to finally complete integration of the schools and I was in the first class to attend and graduate from the new high school. And so we had a new “integrated” band as well. There were occasional fights in the school hallways and a contentious cheerleader election, but the band hall seemed to me to be free of any racial tension. Music, I think, is a unifying force and band provided us with a diverse social group and facilitated connections and a communal purpose. Rivalry was limited to congenial “chair” contests.

The size of our band doubled in the new school. Most, if not all of us, hung out in the band hall when we arrived at school until the bell rang for the first class of the day. I was usually trying desperately to finish my homework.

I found my place in this small Texas town in band and had the honor of being elected an officer in the band and the first “Band Sweetheart”.

I briefly considered a music major in college, but realized that what little talent I had would need to be supplemented by hours and hours and hours spent in practice rooms. Instead, I enrolled in marching band for the fall semesters of my freshman and sophomore years as a member of the Baylor University Golden Wave Marching Band (playing 3rd part and probably sitting last chair among a lot of true musicians!)

I have quite a few more “musical memories” but I won’t bore you with any more today. I didn’t meet the guy in the picture in band, but I married him anyway. I still have my old cornet, but the valves are frozen. I once planned to make it into a lamp but never did. One of my children stayed in band through high school so I got to experience a little more band life vicariously through her.

March on over to the Sepia Saturday blog to see what others have done with today’s prompt.


26 thoughts on “Sepia Saturday – A Parade of Musical Memories

    • Yeah – Martin doing the “Sic ’em Bears” in his UT APO shirt is kind of funny. Didn’t know I was such a sweetheart, did you?

  1. I loved reading about your moves from school to school and your musical accomplishments. Band life seems to have been a life-line for many kids – my own great nieces and nephews seemed to blossom once they became part of a band.

    • I’ve always known that band and Girl Scouts were my life-line through all of our moves. No Girl Scouts in high school in our last town, so band was my saving grace.

  2. What a fun story Kathy! I was never in band myself, but my four boys were. Only one of them (the one who wants to major in music) kept with it through his high school years. He has perfect pitch and can play several instruments including trumpet and piano. And he was in several different bands in high school too – marching, jazz, and symphonic. He also was in chamber choir. I really don’t know how he did it all with the crazy schedule he had. But as you experienced yourself, being in band was great because of the network of friends it provided.

    • I hope your son continues to enjoy his musical pursuits. These days marching band itself is so much different – such an emphasis on marching competitions and complicated routines.

  3. I always think that reading a good Sepia Saturday post is like stopping off for a coffee and a chat and sharing memories and stories about the past and by doing so getting to know a little more about our friends. So thanks for inviting me for coffee today, I thoroughly enjoyed our chat.

    • Alan, I’m glad you enjoyed it. After posting I wondered if it was all just a bit too much about me. I’d been away from my blog almost completely for the past 2 months and I seemed to have a need to write.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your memories of life in the band. I was not a band member, but it was obvious to me both in high school and as a teacher in a high school that the bond among band members was unbreakable. The “band hall” was always exactly as you depict it in this post.

    • Yes – I found that to be true for my daughter some 30+ years after my own time in band. And I feel it was probably so for my mother as well. Likely why she was encouraging of my interest in taking up an instrument. Thanks, Wendy.

    • Ha! 🙂 I neglected to mention the other bond of band kids – we all made the choice to be publicly uncool by joining the band. So you join forces and have one another’s back.

    • Oh – I think drummers are very musical! My son learned to play a trap set and I just can’t imagine getting all four limbs keeping a different rhythm at the same time! The heartbeat of the band!

  5. A fun post that was almost like reading my own story. My first band uniform was left over from a previous decade and looked much like your mother’s uniform. The next year we got something more stylish like yours (at least for the 70s.) My instrument is the horn and all of my colleagues in the brass and woodwind sections share the same band experience, even though we are orchestra people now. Violinists and cellists never get the thrill of marching around on the football field. The real band professionals are the musicians in the military bands. Their precision ensemble is something to admire. You should break out the valve oil and get those chops back to buzzing again!

    • I can still buzz, but it would take quite a bit of practice to get a recognizable sound! I wonder if I still remember my fingering? Now I’m curious. I may have to get those valves working again.

  6. What a great journey!!
    You may think your talents were modest,
    but you got to enjoy the kind of experience you wished for.
    Thanx 4 sharing all of this.
    That last video was a nice touch.

  7. No one in our family is the slightest bit musical but I enjoyed reading your interesting story, My children dabbled with recorders, the clarinette and guitars but gave up before they were out of their teens. I read of Patti Page’s recent death, I hadn’t heard the Tenesses Waltz for years.

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