My Musical Background
I was born in a Salvation Army corps building on a Mothers' Day as my father was preaching. He truncated his sermon to rush to the upstairs apartment to deliver my Mother of me. My crib during church was her accordion case which was behind the old upright piano. I heard good music almost constantly from the time my eyes were open. I began to write little songs for my friends well before going to kindergarten. Though none of us knew what conducting was all those years ago in Parsons, Kansas, I'm told I stood holding the grillwork of the big console radio and waved my right arm in time to the music. I have no reason to distrust my good parents and others on these things. Suffice to say I was around music and enjoyed it from the start, a feeling which has never diminished.
I learned to play a cornet in a Salvation Army band in Chicago by watching the fingers of the girl I was sweet on and doing the rest by ear. Within a few years I was playing all of the solos available in The Salvation Army. In high school, under bandmaster Sandy Smith, I switched to euphonium due to a lip problem. This took off like a forest fire and I started a Salvation Army band at the Milwaukee South Corps and was commissioned the youngest Senior Bandmaster the Central Territory had ever had - age 14! Within less than two years I was soloist and principal euphonium in The Chicago Staff Band - another precedent-setting event. I held that post for over 10 years when I resigned over some internal politics. While in the Staff Band I was commissioned Bandmaster of the corps in which I first learned to play, Chicago Belmont. The Belmont Band became one of the best in the country while I was there.
During my Staff Band years I also sang in the Salvation Army Chicago Staff Choristers under the redoubtable Lt.-Colonel Carl Lindstrom. He was also a supreme bandmaster and trombone virtuoso and remains in my heart as a man I would walk into fire for. At that time I founded and conducted the Territorial Headquarters Women's Chorus for the Army. My other vocal enterprises had consisted of singing the lead role of The Captain of The Pinafore at my elementary school graduation!? Having thus "conquered" vocal music, I decided to move on to brass . . . Fischer-Dieskau . . .eat your heart out!
While serving as bandmaster at Belmont, playing in the Staff Band, singing in the Staff Choristers, working full-time and carrying a triple major at The American Conservatory, Divisional Commander Gordon Foubister asked me to start a Youth Band for the Northern Illinois Division (something I'd done many years earlier but which received no support from the commander of the time). That Youth Band was soon considered by many to be the best SA band in the country (and recordings will underscore that opinion). Why wouldn't they be great?, the youngsters themselves elected to rehearse every Saturday from 8:00 a.m. 'till noon, and we often went until 2:00 p.m.! They tell me I made them reach beyond themselves. I don't know about that, but I do KNOW they made me reach beyond myself. Those were absolutely glorious years.
During that period I attended The American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and studied primarily with the late and truly great Irwin Fischer. I majored in composition, piano and conducting. I remained a disciple of Mr. Fischer, who was also my most loyal and loving friend, until his death in 1977. At one point he wrote a recommendation for me that stated: "In all my years of teaching, I can't recall any pupil that went as deeply into his studies as did Bob." I thank God every day for Mr. Fischer! He was vast and beautiful.
My brass studies consisted of less than a dozen lessons cumulatively in my life; a few from now retired Colonel Ronald Rowland as a young boy, a very few on trombone from Glen Dodson, and even fewer informally from Leonard B. Smith. I found that the depth of my other musical training held me in good stead for my playing . . . that and frequent days in my youth when I practiced a dozen and more hours a day during Summer! (The neighbors actually called the police!) As an early teen, during a six-month bed rest due to rheumatic fever I took an SA correspondence course in harmony written by Bernard Smith and administered by then Captain Victor Danielson. On one of my lessons he congratulated me on fine work and referred to me as "My boy!" I was in shock at his affection, and our friendship grew steadily until he died recently.
I completed high school at Lane Tech in Chicago where the music department was well beyond superlative! 16th century counterpoint studies in high school! That was great blessing for me and I thank Messer's Schneider, Blum, Huff, Grill & Borger for the grounding they gave me in ensemble, harmony, counterpoint, music history, music appreciation, orchestration and more. We studied Ives, for heaven's sake, decades before most of the professional world and colleges finally "discovered" him - he was but a few years dead at the time! Chicago Symphony players frequently visited band and orchestra rehearsals, and just sat in! I was exempted from a number of courses at the Conservatory later because I had the good fortune to attend that great high school.
As already stated, many with whom I have worked have said the I was able to bring them higher than their potential, which seems self-contradictory, but I'll accept it in the spirit given, and with deep gratitude. However, the greatest flattery came from three people. Again, Irwin Fischer was lavish in his praise of my work, but when he stated that I was the most like him and had gone into my studies more deeply than any pupil he could recall, I was floored. Then Colonel Douglas Norris of The Salvation Army gave me a composing assignment stating "I want you to be the Erik Leidzen of the Central Territory!" How does one respond to such a statement, but to strive in humility? The third was via International Staff Bandmaster Brigadier Bernard Adams. The legendary euphonium artist Joshua Walford was due to retire and Bernie asked if I would be his replacement. In my opinion Josh was the greatest artist ever to blow into a brass tube . . . to say that I was profoundly humbled by this offer would be the understatement of the millennium.
In 1969 a heart-sickening divorce assailed me and I felt I had to leave Chicago. A Salvation Army Band in Cambridge, Massachusetts was looking for a bandmaster to take them to the next level, and I eventually accepted that post. The band there had great potential and proved to become one of the best bands the Army ever produced. We took the mantle of service very seriously, and serve we did! It was a rather rough-hewn bunch, of primarily young men who constantly pushed the envelope of acceptable behavior for Salvationists. For the most part they were irreverent rascals that played like angels! These were years all of us are proud of now, but which stressed the constrictions of the Army almost to the breaking point. However, we became such an exciting ensemble that the commanders tended to overlook all but the most blatant of offenses. Great friendships have grown out of those years, and all but a few continue to make good music today, some in the highest musical positions in the United States today!
During this time I met my wife Barbara who was/is the most remarkable answer to specific prayer imaginable (but that's another story! Please ask!) We moved to Detroit for better employment opportunities. It was there that I met the great Leonard B. Smith, in who's band I served as principal euphonium for a few years (against my will!), and who became like an extra father to me, not unlike Mr. Fischer. Two of my proudest accomplishments were to serve as President and Chairman of the Board for both Leonard's great Detroit Concert Band and also for my old school, The American Conservatory of Music.
A few years later I assumed the bandmaster position of the SA Dearborn Heights Citadel Band (formerly Detroit Citadel). Other bands in the Army that asked me to be a leader but for whom I could not serve included deputy bandmaster of The New York Staff Band under Richard Holz; also, Rockford Temple and Flint Citadel asked me to be bandmaster, and three times I was asked to become bandmaster of The Chicago Staff Band. I already mentioned that the late Bernard Adams invited me to become principal euphonium and soloist in The International Staff Band, replacing the late and greatest of all Josh Walford, an honor that boggles my mind! More than any other person, Bernie transformed banding within The Salvation Army for the better musically and spiritually - he set a standard that has not been equaled before or since. I consider his endorsement and friendship among my most precious musical and personal treasures.
I'd like to think a man is known by the company he keeps . . . at least I can wish that to be so in my case. I cannot begin to mention all the names of people I met in The Salvation Army that influenced me and were close friends in music and life, but I will mention a few that were dear, devoted and intimate friends: Irwin Fischer, Leo Heim, B. Fred Wise, Emil Soderstrom, Eric Ball, Philip Catelinet, Bernard Smith, Harold Crowell, Bernard Adams, Brindley Boon, Richard Holz, Carl Lindstrom, Victor Danielson, Joshua Walford, Howard Chesham and Norman Bearcroft are but a few of the historic musical giants, to say nothing of at least one of my young men from the Cambridge days, Ron Waiksnoris who is among the giants of today. There were many others who were teachers and friends, including Leonard Bernstein, Randall Thompson, Morton Gould, Leo Sowerby, whose kindness and generosity of spirit cannot be measured, much less repaid. (Sorry whomever I left out, but I'm apparently having a "senior moment!" - too many notes in my head to hold much else!?) These are a few of the people whom I loved in music and I'm proud to assert that they loved me as well. Each and all were generous to me beyond any merit I could dream of claiming. I thank God for each of them and for you reading all of this vainglorious reminiscence!
I have composed all of my life, primarily for special events or to meet a specific need, but mostly just for the joy of it. I've always done something else for a living to liberate my music from the bonds of due-dates and pandering to popularity which even Bartok suffered! I used my music personally and occasionally gave it out here or there, but without any system, and really without having any idea how much I'd written! (I still don't know!) The collection on this website consists solely of material that I have been able to computerize for publication quality reproduction. Even having said that, I've been so busy writing new things that I've hardly been able to dip into the well of cumulated pieces! Perhaps tomorrow . . .
I am blissfully happy doing this, and especially when someone offers a reaction like I got just last night to one of my pieces: "Fabulously gorgeous!" is hard to beat for ego gratification. However, I enjoy composing so much I can actually put up with the idea of having my music only take off after I'm dead. To look at one's own work is like trying to watch TV with one's nose pressed against the screen! Further, everyone believes their own baby is beautiful . . . these pieces are my babies . . . I must compose, ere I decompose!
What's the "bottom line"? It is that God has been uncommonly generous to me via beautiful friends, talent, time and a loving wife and family that permit me to pursue this dream. It is an uncommon blessing to live in an environment that graciously looks past ones errors and lauds ones victories. Thank you Lord! And thank you my beloved ones all!
God bless you!
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