Brighten the Corner Where You Are
Class of '64
Now that our Lee High has been razed, and a new version has been resurrected on the site of the former Woody’s Drive-in, and the statute of limitations has surely run out on my crime, I come forward to confess a sin, a case of petty thievery: I kept a sheet of music from the band’s library and have it to this day.
After the football season of 1962 was over—coming to a feel-good conclusion with three victories—and the band’s half-time performances had thus ended, we applied ourselves to another aspect of our reason for being. We had demonstrated a facet of that larger purpose with our music-making in the stands during the games, entertaining and firing up the Lee crowd with spirited renditions of such tunes as “Rebel Rouser,” “Alabama Bound,” and the regional anthem of that time, “Dixie.” But once the season of ballyhoo and football clashes had passed, the band buckled down to the serious work of improving as a musical organization. Mr. Foley distributed the new music, and we began preparing for the state band competition in Tuscaloosa and, following that, our community showpiece, the spring concert.
Since the Alabama High School Band Competition Festival came in early April, we first concentrated on mastering the compositions that Mr. Foley had chosen from a list provided by the competition’s administrators and judges. Just as in athletic competitions, schools were rated according to the population of their student body. Lee proved to be a special case, however. We were only a quasi-high school for 1962-63, topping-out at the eleventh grade—a work in progress. But this status brought no penalty; it merely ranked us in the company of schools like Hanceville High School, Lanett High School, and Andalusia High School, schools from cities far smaller than Huntsville. In any case, the format for on-stage performances was the same: each band began with a march, and two short concert pieces followed.
April 4, 1963: Alabama-bound, indeed! We had competed in Tuscaloosa the year before, so this wasn’t our first rodeo, but our spirits soared again for several reasons. Hey, we were taking a bus trip and getting out of town! We were headed for the big time, the demonstration and judging of our musical skills amongst our peers. Once we arrived on campus or after the performance (my memory is muddled about the timing), some of the band members, accompanied by chaperons, explored the campus, knocking off the tension of the affair, having fun, and getting an early look at college life. I found pleasure by staying in the auditorium, listening to as much of the music as I could. The procession of performances created alternating moods of tension and release. The panoply of differing uniforms was impressive and brought an air of festivity to the occasion. A feeling of solidarity reigned. We were all in this together: the sweet pursuit of musical beauty.
The pieces we played that Thursday afternoon were “Manhattan Beach,” one of the well-known marches of John Philip Sousa; “Tamerlane,” a contemporary portrait of a 14th century despot who hoped to rule the Mongol Empire and the Moslem world. If you conjure up the dramatic opening overture of a 1950s cinematic epic, you’ll have an idea of what the music sounded like; and “Mexican Overture,” a medley of traditional melodies. As we played these disparate compositions, the strengths and weaknesses of our musical skills were revealed. (Our interpretations of the three compositions were later included in the record the band sold to finance its trip to the Orange Bowl Parade late that year).
Mr. Foley shared the rating the judges gave us later that afternoon. We hadn’t won top honors, but we had acquitted ourselves well. Mission accomplished. There followed the joyful bus ride home.
In addition to polishing the numbers for the state competition during our sixth period band class, we also began readying the pieces that Mr. Foley had selected for our spring concert. Among them was a medley called “’Billy’ Sunday’s Successful Songs.” I didn’t know it at the time, but Billy Sunday was America’s foremost revivalist during the years 1910-1920, renowned for the exuberant, athletic, and colloquial style of his preaching. The “Successful Songs” consisted of seven hymns that had roused Sunday’s audiences, raising the pitch of piety, religious fervor, and fellowship. The hymns were “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart,” “If Your Heart Keeps Right,” “My Wonderful Dream,” ”What A Day of Victory,” “I Walk With the King,” “Brighten the Corner Where You Are,” and “I’m Coming Home.” I’m guessing, but the last hymn was probably sung as some of the attendees made their way to the altar, “hitting the sawdust trail” in their hope for salvation.
Henry Fillmore, a famous musician, composer, and bandmaster of the time, gathered the hymns into a suite, preserving the wonderful sounds of the small wind band (with piano?) that would probably have accompanied the impassioned singers throughout the service. The medley was pure Americana, simple, compelling, and heartfelt—a musical reminder of earlier times. I was raised as a staid Lutheran and was never anywhere near a revival meeting, so this music hit me as a fairly-new experience (even though I had heard my share of turn-of-the-century music before then). Adding to the music’s strong call to me was the fact that the baritone, the instrument I played in the band, had a prominent part in the melodies. Of all the music the band played in the four years I was a member, this was my favorite piece. To my thinking, Mr. Foley made an inspired choice.
Now for the rest of the story: the particularities of my misdemeanor and the ensuing events. When the concert season had ended and school was winding down, it was customary to return all the music sheets to Mr. Foley. That year I handed everything back to him or his assistants except “’Billy’ Sunday’s Successful Songs.” It’s impossible to defend my skewed motives. I can only say that I loved the music and wanted a tangible reminder. I knew that my baritone-playing days would end with graduation the next year. I probably told myself that if Mr. Foley inquired about the missing sheet, I could always claim that I had taken it home and then give it back to him a few days later. He never asked, but with an avalanche of music to deal with, no wonder he never discovered there was one piece un-accounted for. At the end of the year, the music ended up in my stash of school memorabilia, joining report cards, football programs, copies of The Traveller, newspaper reports of sports events, and my letter “L” for being in the band. My senior year souvenirs would bury the tell-tale sheet even deeper.
And there it remained for many years, forgotten. It was probably shortly after the Internet resurrection of Lee’s Traveller that I examined the old school mementos, connecting with the past and using some of the documents as memory aids for the articles I began contributing. And there I found the treasured music again, but I no longer remembered the melodies.
Using the early Internet search engines then in vogue such as Altavista, Webcrawler, and Hotbot, I looked for any mention of Fillmore’s suite, but there was no trace. Last year, fifty years after playing the piece, I did a search on Google, digging down through several pages of links and there discovered that I had not been alone in my affection for the obscure medley. It had been admired enough by others to be included in a little-known CD of Fillmore’s music. I was able to download a copy of the CD entitled Memories of Uncle Henry for $10; it included a version of “’ Billy’ Sunday’s Successful Songs.” Man, sheet music, and music were re-united. The music is still as sweet as it ever was.
I am aware that this is not the kind of revelation one normally makes near the 50th anniversary of one’s high school graduation. But, on the other hand, why not come clean now and illuminate a dark secret? I am aware, too, of the irony of having absconded with a collection of religious music. Mea culpa.
Memphis, TN - I owe a little apology to the members of the classes of 1965 and 1966 for an omission because of a small editing mistake I made in last week's issue. The notice for the class of '64's 50th Anniversary Reunion was a two page document and I thought page one contained all the announcement text and page two only contained the registration form. I was made aware this week that part of page two was actually part of the page one announcement, so this week I need to share with you the correction of that mistake. The following text was obmitted from last week's announcement.
WELCOME ALL 1965, 1966, AND OTHERS
TO JOIN US IN THIS SPECIAL 50th CELEBRATION!!
It is a Fami-Lee Party
and would not be the same without you!!!
Though the event will focus on the 50th Anniversary, please understand that all of you are invited to join in for the fun and memories and we of the Class of '64 hope that we will all be invited to celebrate the 50th reunions of the other classes as well.
LEE HIGH SCHOOL
FIRST GRADUATING CLASS 1964
50 year Reunion
We will be celebrating the First Graduating Class of one of Huntsville’s Historic High Schools on
September 26-27, 2014
WELCOME ALL 1965, 1966, AND OTHERS
ACOMMODATIONS AVAILABLE: Blocked Rooms at the Embassy Suites: 20 suites blocked; 1964 1ST priority;
$119.00/night, must reserve early; rooms will not be held until Sept; specify LHS 50th Reunion Code#636
Need Email Addresses and Contact Info on these 1964 Classmates
As of 1/29/14
Lost: NO Email NO Address/NO INFO
Scott L. Anderson
Atkinson, Pat (Frazer)
Dolores Asbill Lundgren
Joe Ronnie Bishop
Blanchette, Vernon Gene
Judy Bracey Davis
Carl H. Buckstad
Eliz. Sharon Ann Burch Thompson
Brenda Crabbe Roland
Marcia Crowl Hemphill
Cynthia Jane Day
James Bruce Duncan
Rita Suzanne Fletcher Strawn
Phillip Pete Freeman
Betty Jean Green Byrom
Alan Michael Hammick
Pat Hartsell Maples
Rex Edward Howard
Merle Huff Helms*
Nicki Lynn Judge
Judith Ellen Keel
Donna L. Kerr Dudley
Carol Lee Kinney
Connie Rebecca Kirk
Mildred Millie” Elizabeth Kirk Dickson
Robin Gail Kitson
Phillip Wayne Lankford
Margaret Diane Mason Brown
Alvin L. McCartt
Annette Lee McCraney
Helen Rebecca McCurdy
Evelyn Evie” Jo Moore Conrad
Marilyn Marie Moore Boster
John Robert Nelson
Glynda Sharon Pendley
John F Ridgeway
Linda Carol Sandlin
Kathryn Inez Seymour Black
Virginia Ginny” Smith Yeager
Brenda Sharon Thompson
Jimmy Wayne Upton
Please send updates and corrections to:
THANKS FOR THE HELP…..
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