Observations by a First-of-May Conductor

By Paul T. Richards, WJU #240

SOURCE: 2006 Vol. 36-4 Circus Fanfare

Editor’s Note: First-of-May” is the term used to describe a new circus musician. It alludes to the annual kickoff date for the circus performance season. This article was written in 2006 by Paul T. Richards who, despite having been a member of Windjammers since the early ’70’s, was a new circus band conductor at the 2006 meet.

Paul Richards was a circus fan for as long as he could remember. As a young bandsman, lower photo, he played with the Elks Lodge Band. His next door neighbor as he was growing up was Charles James Lattimore, a professional trombonist with the side show band of Sparks Circus and the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Real Wild West “Annex” band. Paul conducted and played trumpet in the Star of the West Brass Band, a group created to honor P.G. Lowery, a member of the Windjammers Hall of Fame. Paul is also a fine composer of traditional old time circus music.

Paul T. Richards: Quite a few years ago I discovered an organization of people who liked to get together and play circus music. Since this is one of my major interests, I joined Windjammers Unlimited and enjoyed reading the Circus Fanfare magazine, and hearing the recordings. I thought that there was no way I was good enough to play with these real musicians. However, when my long time friend, Dr. Clifford Watkins was asked to be the Windjammers’ banquet speaker in January 2004, he persuaded me to come to Sarasota, play and hear him deliver his presentation about P.G. Lowery. I was instantly hooked, and with a little pushing from my friends, I found myself going through a conductor’s audition in January 2006. If you were not in the White Band, you should ask someone who was about how much fun we had getting the rehearsal started.

My knowledge about Iowa was very limited, but after an enjoyable Amtrak trip, we learned that Iowa has lots of towns whose names start with “O”, lots of corn and soybeans, and seemingly a lot of very friendly people. The West Des Moines Marriott seemed new, was very attractively designed and decorated and was well maintained. Vic and Barbara Anderson, our hosts, deserve special recognition for their efforts. No matter where one looked, Barb seemed to be there, making sure everything was going well and that we were comfortable. (Was it really she who slipped the USA Today under the door each morning?)

Just as it seemed that all was going well and we stepped into the lobby to check in, I was greeted with the news that due to some illness cancellations, I was to be one of the conductors. It was not until after the conductors’ briefing the next morning that I got to see my music, and was relieved to see that it was three selections I could handle without too much worry. It all happened too fast for panic to set in. The announcement of Bob Peckham’s sudden demise brought the festivities to a moment of shock and reflection. The obituary indicates that he was born in southwest Iowa. I like to think that this trouper is comfortably back in a wonderful winter quarters after a very successful and notable tour.

My seating position in the band was something I could not have dreamed of when I first joined the Windjammers. I felt like a yard dog that has been let in the house for the first time. Sharing the 3rd cornet duties to my right were two generations of the Everhart family (Jim, WJU #1332, and son Gary, WJU # 1384), with another son (Rod, WJU #1351) in front of us on solo cornet.

To their right was Jerrold Jimmerson, the conductor of the King Band, playing some powerful and beautiful bass clarinet. To my left was none other than WJU #1, Charlie Bennett, who was playing a Selmer K-Modified trumpet—just like mine! There was no problem in developing a new and highly valued friendship. Of course, there were my drummer friends right behind me—did they get stronger throughout the meet? I like to think that I played better because of my environment.

The excursion to Oskaloosa (one of those “O” towns) to visit the C.L. Barnhouse Publishing Company was indeed a treat. Our host was the cool, calm, capable, and cordial Andy Glover who led us on a tour that included views into every nook and cranny of the company. In spite of my previous assumptions, there were no basement shelves full of moldy music, and no great, clanking printing presses. Everything was digital, and a complete concert band edition smoothly and silently slid out of the printers in a few brief minutes. He gave a full explanation of most every aspect of the operation and patiently answered all our questions. There were even cookies and drinks for us! Many thanks, Andy.

The next treat came in the form of a concert by the Karl L. King Municipal Band of Fort Dodge. There is nothing that could be said that would do justice to the experience of hearing this band live. Later conversations with Jerrold Jimmerson and Duane “Oley” Olson provided details about the operation of the band that added even more to the enjoyment of hearing them. This group of talented and hard-working people seems to enjoy what they do, in spite of the terrific responsibility involved and should be complimented for the job they do in continuing the tradition started by one of America’s foremost musical giants.

I was joined at this meet by three other Charlottesville band musicians, Ty and Jervy Bauer, who have been attending meets for some time, and Wayne Clark. This was Wayne’s first Windjammer gathering and I think we have him sold. He was happily at home among the 20 “euphers” we had. They did some wonderful playing on all of the Karl King numbers. There are good euphonium parts in many band compositions, but I think most would agree that Karl King was truly the euphers’ friend.

Along with all the other fun, I had to attend to my suddenly assigned responsibilities. My march was “Fame and Fortune,” dedicated to C. L. Barnhouse. I had never heard of it, but would say that is should be in more band libraries and on more programs. It has lots of good “King-style” accents in the first two strains, and yet another imaginative variation on barbershop harmony in the trio. The break strain is unusual in that it has only 14 measures, instead of 16. I guess Karl said what he wanted to say in 14 bars and didn’t want to waste two more. It sounded fine to me.

The selection chosen to be played at the concert was “Georgia Girl.” I learned from Oley that Mr. King did not perform this much. It seemed to work at whatever tempo a circus act might dictate. Without a pattern to follow, I felt it would be okay to use an up-beat and feisty tempo, instructing special instrumentation in the trio by the ladies in the percussion section. Well done!

For my third conducting selection, “Golden Days” bears a 1951 copyright date, and was perhaps written with younger bands in mind. The second section features a cornet duet accompanied by a patented “Karl King” baritone counter melody. Not difficult, but characteristically melodious. I thought it would be an uneventful, easy job to rehearse and record. Wrong! The introduction is a short motif with two half note chords, two quarter notes, and two beats rest, then repeated on a different tonality. We got through the first two half notes and two quarters, and then right in the rest came a very loud, impolite-sounding “razzz-berry” type noise. Bad enough, but then someone voiced an opinion as to what it sounded like. Doctors say laughter is therapeutic. We all left that rehearsal healthier.

When all was “out and over” and we were on the way down the road, I thought over all that had gone on and how enjoyable it was. I asked my wife Anne what she liked best about the week, and she said, “Seeing you conduct.” Remembering how it felt in the concert, standing on the podium, waving the stick and hearing the band strut through “Georgia Girl,” I thought, “Circus music and good friends—nothing could be better than this!”

About Joe Shearin 16 Articles
Joe (WJU #3773) is an Editor and Contributor at MYWJU.ORG in addition to being a Trustee, Secretary and Trombonist in Windjammers Unlimited.