By Joe Rector
I received an invitation to the event but wasn’t sure whether or not to attend. It was a retirement get together for Ron Rogers and Steve Taylor, two former band directors in Knox County and other places. My brother Jim convinced me to go, and I’m glad he was so insistent.
Ron is a towering man. He attended Gibbs High School and played basketball for the school. I met him when he, Steve, and my brother Jim were working together at Farragut High School. At that time, no band was better. Massive numbers of students were involved, I don’t know what the school’s football teams were like back then, but I know that the band won enough competitions to make displaying trophies an impossible task.
Ron was a fantastic director, but he also had enviable relationships with his students. They would do whatever was asked of them, and they strove to get better every week. His yelling at them to go back and do things right frayed the edges of their nerves, but students always knew Ron demanded excellence from each musician or flag core member…and himself.
Ron’s office was a sacred place where directors gathered before and after practice. No student dared to enter without knocking first, and on many occasions, they held their noses as they came through the door. Director offices are notoriously disheveled, dirty, and downright stinky. I suppose that sitting in that confined space long enough dulled one’s senses enough to stay.
My first meeting with Steve Taylor occurred at Karns High School. At that time, I was teaching English, and Jim was the head band director. This young man with curly red hair introduced himself as my brother’s assistant. I offered my sympathies and congratulations all at the same time. Steve was a worrier, or so it seemed. He let little things get to him. His work with the brass section improved them, but he never seemed satisfied. When his temper got the best of him, his face turned nearly as red as his hair, and he seemed to start any uncomfortable conversation with a question first.
Steve went on to other schools and landed at my first place of employment. It was named Doyle High to me, but Steve came when it was South Doyle High. His bands grew in numbers and playing prowess. In fact, Steve’s demand for excellence led his groups to achieving the highest marks in concert and marching competitions.
At this gathering to honor Ron and Steve, I met plenty of people but knew few. May were former students, several who had themselves majored in music and had become directors themselves. Each had a litany of stories about the retirees, some not exactly good to share in mixed company. Still, those younger folks came to thank the men for how they had positively affected their lives.
I spied a couple of old guys that were icons in their days as directors. Dwight Christian and Stanley Barnes for years were masters of their crafts and produced fine bands and excellent musicians. Stanley sat as judge for the first band tryout I had. He listened to my prepared piece and asked me to play several scales. Despite that, I still managed to make one of the bands. Dwight is a golf buddy. Now he is a few years my senior, but the man can still wear me out during 18 holes. HIs career as a band director is almost legendary.
I hope and pray that the new band director taking the places of Ron and Steve are as well prepared and as musically talented. The expectations of others are high for new folks, and filling the shoes of these two men will be difficult.
Ron Rogers and Steve Taylor will find other things to do. Neither can sit still long. Raise a glass to them and wish them well in the future. Give thanks for 30-plus years of dedication to music education when they gave hours of extra time to help any student become a better musician who could see the importance of a music program.