Engineers, business executives, dentists, social workers, teachers, bankers, boy scouts, artists, mothers, lawyers, fathers, retail sales people, doctors, adults of all stripes have been affected by a singular phenomenon. That phenomenon happened to them as children, and continues to ripple through their lives as adults. Exposure to music education makes lasting impressions.
A generation of adults in Warren County were touched, taught, and cajoled by Bill Brocklebank. Say "Mr. B." to a vast number of adults in Warren and they will know of whom you speak. He was the Choir Director at Warren Area High School for many years. He trained many young adults to have better voices, to listen with their ears, to control what comes out of their mouths, to work together toward a common goal, and to focus on bettering one's personal contribution to something far bigger than one's self. He led the A capella choir through tours of Europe, Canada, and our nation's capital. He demonstrated what effect the efforts of a group of young people can have on others; all the while affecting the lives of hundreds of high school himself. Mr. B is a central character in the story of many a high school student's life at WAHS.
He has returned. Bill Brocklebank recently became a resident of the Rouse Warren County Home. He returns to the community after retiring to New Wilmington, Pa. his zest for life would not allow sitting still and quietly reflecting on his accomplishments for long. He continued to pursue his musical passions. He once again became choir director and church organist.
A number of his former students from the 1970s and 1980s heard of his return and felt compelled to thank him for the lasting impact he has had on their lives. What better tribute than to sing, and sing they did. They sang hymns, spirituals, and even the song with which Mr. B ended many of his concerts, The Lord Bless You and Keep You.
Many adults speak of how busy life becomes. Running children to practices, games, rehearsals, and lessons becomes a second full time job. The primary job consumes more and more of one's time. Phone calls, face-to-face conversations, e-mail messages, and Facebook posts helped recruit nineteen of Mr. B's former students to pause the merry-go-round of life for a few hours Monday evening to pay tribute to this man who gave so much.
The group met at St. Francis Episcopal Church for an hour of rehearsal prior to going to visit. They warmed-up, sang through some hymns and spirituals, and remembered. Lisa Brown borrowed scores of You'll Never Walk Alone from the WAHS music library; Floyd Moore brought copies of The Lord Bless You and Keep You. Kindness and desire are sometimes not quite enough to accomplish the feats of one's past. You'll Never Walk Alone was a tough piece of music 30 years ago; it still is. The decision was made to not attempt something that wouldn't be fitting tribute to Mr. B. The Lord Bless You and Keep You was another story. Nary was a note missed, even on the first run-through. The voices of youth returned, if only for a few moments. THIS would be appropriate.
The grouped headed over to The Rouse Warren County Home. The wonderful staff there had a place ready for us and the surprise was set. Barb Hill, who had visited the previous week, went to his room to get him. The sound of the choir reached him before he rounded the corner. A smile is always a great gift, this one was very great.
The clock turned back. The singers stood taller, their breaths became deeper, their diction more clear, all things Mr. B demanded of his choirs. Hundreds of students passed through Mr. B's door. Thirty years changes people; each of the singers reintroduced him or herself and reminded him of his/her year of graduation. He remembered the names, if not the aged faces. He remembered sisters and brothers, parents, nicknames, and voices. The Queen of Scandia had returned. "Lisa Eldridge. I knew you right away. How could I forget?" Todd and Chad Betts, "You have sisters." Ellen Paquette "Wow." These went on for each of the nineteen singers.
Mr. B was animated and singing along. He was asked to conduct the final piece, The Lord Bless You and Keep You. His conducting was reserved as the piece began; he became more animated with each measure. The music grew, he grew, singers cried. The end of the song brought physical exhaustion to Mr. B and emotional exhaustion for the singers.
Chad Betts shares the following: "When he (Mr. B) started directing "The Lord Bless you and Keep You" midway through the song, it was like being transported right back to high school and brought back so many great memories. Mr. B is a tremendous choral director and the best evidence of that was how good we sounded. I was blessed to have many excellent teachers at Warren High, but none were more influential or important to me than Mr. B. He demanded excellence yet he was also one of the most approachable and fun-loving teachers I knew. His dedication to his music and students was complete. In the fall of my senior year, Tim Brandhorst (lead) and I (bass) approached Mr. B with a request to assemble a barbershop quartet to perform in the joint concert the A capella Choir used to hold each fall with the Conewango Clippers Barbershop Chorus. Mr. B thought it was a great idea, so we recruited John Centamore (baritone) and Sal Quinones (Tenor) to round out the quartet and called ourselves the "Dragonaires". We rehearsed before school before school several days a week to prepare two songs for the show and had so much fun, we decided to stay together afterwards. The Dragonaires were a fixture for the rest of the year at every school concert and at many school functions. Despite the fact we all graduated in June 1984, Mr. B kept us together all summer practicing and performing around Warren and even taking us to Coudersport on one occasion. Just before we all moved on to college, we took Mr. B for a nice dinner in Jamestown and returned to the First Presbyterian Church (where he was the organist/choir director) and recorded all of our songs with the help of Mr. Lang. I still get chills listening to the recording. It's impossible for me to put into words how much I appreciate the time and effort Mr. B put into the Dragonaires. It is exceedingly rare to find a mentor with the passion and dedication Mr. B displayed. I, along with all his former students, can count Mr. B as one of the great blessings that came along in our lives."
There is no better way to learn than to find ways to apply a lesson to real-life situations. The lessons learned in A cappella choir continue to be applicable these 30 years later. This age of budget cuts and the resultant program cuts give all reason to pause. In that pause, reflect on the lessons learned in choir, or band or orchestra. March is Music In Our Schools month.