And they’re out there doing “On the Mall.”
I remember looking across at Pete. I say, “Pete, it’s too hot to rehearse, right?” And Pete says, “Yeah.” He’s chewin’ away at his cheeseburger and I’m chewin’ away at mine. And Big John, who runs this place, is back there mopping up the counter and dishin’ out the cheeseburgers to the guys who are goofing off from algebra class.
We can hear the band out there working. It’s great! There’s nothing more exciting than the illicit. And they’re out there in that hot sunlight whistling. I hate the whistling bit. Ever tried to play a sousaphone for three hours in a hot sun, a spanking wind, and then try to whistle? And we’re here knocking down the cheeseburgers. I say, “I think I’ll have another one.” So I have another one. Just enjoyin’ it. It’s kind of cool in here, the air conditioning is going.
Five minutes before the end of rehearsal, I get up and sorta saunter out. I know that I will join the crowd in the band as they come trickling back to the rehearsal hall. And that is what I do. The band comes wandering back all covered with sweat and I just sorta walk in among ‘em. Along with Pete. On top of it all—ol’ Shep. And then came that moment.
That night I’m kind of takin’ it easy. Remember this—I’m also a State Champion sousaphone player. The year before I won a gold medal playing the sousaphone at the state contest. I am a member of the crack marching band. We have more medals that we could put in a hat—each one of us.
Now comes the big night. We are standing out in the end zone. Ready for the big show. We move on out through “El Capitan.” Everything’s cool and copasetic. We go through the “NC-4 March.” Beautiful! We then knick off “On the Mall.” Right down the line!
Shepherd is moving his knees, Shepherd is blowin’ that sousaphone like he’s seldom blown it before!
There’s twenty-five-thousand people watching every move of this great marching band and out ahead we have these two big banners. One is the U. S. flag and the other is the big purple school flag, and behind it the big seal of the State of Indiana with gold fringe. And on it we have all these little medals and patches sewn—various great awards that we had won. Gold, silver, bronze—all over the world we’d won these great medals and our band is marching out.
And that drum section—boy, they are sharp this night. It is a beautiful, crisp night. One of those great nights. We get down to the far end zone.
We countermarch. We countermarch again. Stinky Davis is moving us like some vast machine. You get that great feeling of being on top of it, man!
When I was a young teenager (before rock and roll took over), my heartthrob was Teresa Brewer. In 1954 she released her most memorable song, “Till I Waltz Again With You.” I played my 45 RPM of it constantly, and saved it, so that on April 5, 1978, I still had it when I saw her perform at Carnegie Hall.
(Yes, Carnegie Hall. Teresa, referred to as the little girl with the big voice, began on an “Amateur Hour,” radio show–when I saw her she was headlining at Carnegie Hall–with guests Stephane Grappelli and Dizzy Gillespie. She had become, in her later performing years, recognized for her jazz singing.)
Minor ARTSY FARTSY Note
Performances over, as the audience filed out, I noted people heading for a door at the side of the stage so I followed. I found myself in Teresa Brewer’s dressing room. The woman in front of me on line to see her said. “After all these years, I’ve dreamed of meeting you. My friends say that you and I look alike.” I handed her my 45 of “Till I Waltz Again With You” to sign, saying nervously, “For twenty-five years I’ve dreamed of meeting you.”
She looked up at my recently acquired beard.
“I hope your friends don’t say that you and I look alike.”
I treasure it still.