“Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture A little of the glory of, well time slips away And leaves you with nothing mister but Boring stories of glory days.”
Mostly I write about music and music related things, but I will probably also tell a few stories or share anecdotes that are of interest to me. If you like them and find them interesting or instructional then that’s an added bonus.
I am not a consistent blogger. I write mostly when I have motivation, inspiration, and time; a rare trifecta. I write for the same reason I make music; to lift others up and make the world a better place one note (or word) at a time.
Note: this is an edited version of a previous Facebook post.
In 1994 we got rid of our TV and unplugged from commercial television for good. No more CNN, Seinfeld, or MTV (back when there was actual “M” in MTV). So, in 2001 we were getting our news from newspapers, radio, and sometimes the internet, which we didn’t even have at home yet. On September 11, 2001, my day started later than usual, so with only a few commitments in the afternoon, we got up late and decided to have lunch at one of our favorite sandwich shops.
At the counter, we placed our order and began to notice everyone seemed subdued. Something was “off.” People were talking quietly and the audio on the now-ubiquitous-restaurant-TV was turned up. Tom Clancy was being interviewed about terrorism and counter intelligence. “How serious could this be if they were interviewing a novelist” we thought “and why was everyone so interested?”
The person making our sandwiches looked a little surprised when we asked what was going on. He said “the Twin Towers have been knocked down.” “Knocked down? What do you mean ‘knocked down?’” He glanced up at the TV then returned to making our lunch saying something about “airplanes.” We were still incredulous but reality began to sink in as we played catchup with the events of the morning. After that day, we could never bring ourselves to go back there.
After hearing the Pentagon had also been hit, things got more serious for us. A niece and nephew, both in the Air Force, were recently assigned to the Pentagon, so we tried to reach out to family members on our cool flip phone (why would anyone ever need more than one cell phone per family?). Lines were jammed everywhere and It took a while to get through but we finally learned they were safe and sound, and not even at the Pentagon thanks to a much-needed day off.
The rest of the afternoon was a blur. I went to the Music Building to teach a few lessons and Liesa went home to work in the garden. It was an incredibly beautiful early fall day. I spent some time talking to students and colleagues and learned that the Hawkeye Marching Band momentarily halted their rehearsal to watch Air Force One fly overhead to bring President Bush back to Washington from Offutt Airforce Base in Nebraska. It was the only plane in the sky that afternoon and it was remarkable how noticeably and strangely quiet the firmaments were.
The day was also unusual because Bela Fleck and The Flecktones were in town for a concert. I had invited their percussionist, my friend Roy “Futureman” Wooten over for a visit to Iowa Percussion before the concert. Futureman and I, along with Kirby Shelsted and late Nashville percussion luminary, Tom Roady, had played a few gigs together as a group called Digi-jam, and I was excited to have him in town. He had gotten us tickets to the show but there was a lot of discussion about whether to cancel or not. It was finally decided the concert would go on as planned. It made me proud that The University of Iowa would not allow terrorism to define us on that day.
The show opened with Bela reading a short statement prepared by the university followed by a moment of silence. It was real—sincere—heavy silence that was gently broken by Bela playing America the Beautiful. As he continued, each band member entered the stage and joined in on an unforgettable group improvisation on the tune. They ended with a brief pause and a short breath before launching into an energetic performance of Aaron Copland’s Hoedown, that no one there will ever forget. The musicians were inspired and the audience was held spellbound for 90 minutes.
At the end of the show, we went backstage to say hello to Futureman, thank him for the concert, and wish them a safe trip home. It was now late on a Tuesday in Iowa City and the end of a really confusing day, but Roy wanted to go out. He didn’t want to go back to the bus and just be alone with his thoughts, so we decided to hang out a little longer before their bus departed a few hours later. He wanted to know if there was any live music in town. Futureman is always interested in hearing and supporting other artists.
What could possibly be happening on a Tuesday in our sleepy little town—especially today? But there was something: a duo called Mates of State was playing at a low dive known as Gabes. I had only been there a couple of other times and I felt like the average age doubled whenever I walked in, but we decided to go.
We each paid our five-dollar cover and headed upstairs to the music room. The place looked deserted as we joined a handful of others to hear their last brief set before they called it a night. The small audience then shuffled out, but Roy waited and made a point of meeting them. He asked about their music and their work and was genuinely interested in learning about them. He thanked them for their music, bought a CD, and we headed back to the band bus.
I’m not sure they were really aware of who he was or that he was a multi-GRAMMY award winning musician who was genuinely interested in meeting them. We were just three nice (if somewhat eccentric looking) people who came out to their gig, paid fifteen bucks for 20-minutes of music, and bought a CD. At least they might’ve gotten enough from us to pay for breakfast.
9/11 was a powerful day—one I hope we never forget or have to repeat. It changed our country but it also showed me that the USA won’t be bullied and we won’t be terrorized. A few months later Liesa and I made our first visit to China. It was also our first air travel after 9/11. We were not without second thoughts as we boarded the plane but we were determined not to be made fearful to travel.
September the 11th, 2001 was over by the time we said goodbye to the guys in the band and headed home. It had been a long and emotional day that was made a little better by music, friendship, family, and simple human kindness.
The first thing a person might notice upon entering the music rehearsal room at East Texas State University in 1976 was a large, brightly colored banner proclaiming “It’s a Beautiful Day in Commerce!” Over the years, mystery and lore came to surround the whimsically hand-lettered sign. No one seems to know who created it or how it got there.
Conflicting reports about when the banner first appeared are also in abundance. ETSU Music alumnus Toppy Hill recalls that “the banner first appeared in about 1972.” However, storied Music Professor and most-feared instructor of Music Literature, Gene Lockhart, recalled that his “first ‘intimate’ classes of Arts & Humanities 303 (100 to 150 strong) were taught in the band room in 1969. It was appropriately bedecked with folding chairs, raked seating and ‘The Sign’ on the south wall.”
While there is plenty of intrigue about the three by twenty-foot banner, one thing is certain: how the phrase originated.
Much has changed in Commerce since my college days in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1995 the school name was changed from East Texas State University to Texas A&M University Commerce, and in 2011, the original, well-worn music facility was replaced with a beautiful gateway building overlooking Gee Lake on one side and Memorial Stadium on the other. Then somewhere along the way—after numerous transmogrifications of the old building—the Beautiful Day in Commerce banner faded into memory along with Good Old ET.
In 1957—long before the banner made its debut—Dr. Neill H. Humfeld made his entrance at ETSU where he taught trombone and served as director of bands (1962-1972). A fresh recruit from the Eastman School of Music, he was one of the nation’s top trombonists, an inspired educator, and a remarkable human being by any measure. Many trombonists today would be honored to receive the “Neill Humfeld Award for Excellence in Trombone Teaching” from the International Trombone Association.
In those days, the music faculty at ET took a wholistic approach to education. A major professor guided your development but you might also be coached by the trumpet professor on how to play brushes on a ballad, you could be called out for your etiquette by the clarinet professor, or admonished to learn your scales and chords by your class piano teacher—in the hallway. I shudder to even think about what might happen should you miss too many questions on Lockhart’s Music Lit pop-quizzes. Although I was a percussionist, Dr. Humfeld was my academic advisor during my first few years at ET. Along the way, he kept me out (or got me out) of trouble on numerous occasions.
Chris Clark, trombonist with the “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, recalled that as a high school student, many of his lessons with Dr. Humfeld began with the phrase “it’s a beautiful day in Commerce.” In fact, anyone who ever knew Dr. Humfeld likely received the same greeting at some point. “It was one of Neill’s favorite sayings” Lockhart added. It was his catch phrase but it was more than that; it was an affirmation intended to remind the hearer that beauty is more about how you perceive things than how they may appear.
In the 1970s, Commerce, Texas—formerly known as Cow Hill—was in decline. What began as an optimistic center of commerce for the East Texas Cotton Industry (thus the name), had long since fallen on hard times. Neither the town nor the university campus were picture postcard destinations by any stretch of the imagination, and many professors began to take flight from Commerce in the late 1980s. Some thought the banner might be an ironic statement about the “beauty” of Commerce itself.
Dr. Humfeld certainly wouldn’t have intended that meaning of the phrase. ETSU professor of clarinet, Dr. James Deaton, Humfeld’s lifelong friend, collaborator, and comedic accomplice, remembers seeing a motto in a colleague’s office that said “‘bloom where you are planted.’ I know that Neill’s ‘beautiful day in commerce’ sign meant the same thing, ‘attitude is important’. It means look for the positive things in life.”
Another apocryphal story I was told as a starry-eyed freshman was that Dr. Humfeld coined the phrase as encouragement to the marching band to keep rehearsing in the rain before a big football game performance. But his daughter Nancy Jo recalled that “it had absolutely nothing to do with the weather—it was about your mindset.” Chris Clark agrees. “Dr. Humfeld’s statement really reflected, to me, his core value as a teacher; to always stay positive, and to teach his students that they were much more than just a musician.”
So, what’s the big deal? It’s just a sign; a stunt perpetrated by one of the music fraternities or sororities, or perhaps by some of those snarky misanthropes who hung out in the student lounge* all day. If that were the case, wouldn’t the banner simply disappear after homecoming or when a new band director took over? It probably should’ve, but still it remained. Dr. Deaton doesn’t remember how or when the sign was made either but he suspects there was some student “help” in the process. He said “I do know that the sign and the attitude it conveys has its own life now.”
*During my time at ET the student lounge was dubbed the “Lizard Lounge” by director of bands, James Keene. One might infer the meaning of the phrase.
The banner and the symbolism seemed to bind us together into the legacy of ETSU, which may account for why many of my generation had a difficult time letting go of Old ET. But to help put things into perspective, a former TAMUC President once told me that there are “far more TAMUC graduates today than there ever were from ET.” Point taken.
The many amazing people who sat under that banner went on to successful careers as leaders in music education, performance, and in many other walks of life. I’m sure this is still the case at TAMUC but perhaps today’s students are connected in different ways—by a new talisman—or could some small trace from the past still remain?
Dr. Humfeld’s affirmation not only inspired several generations of music students, it ultimately transcended the walls of the music building and weaved its way into the fabric of the university. Professor Jimmy Clark, Dr. Humfeld’s former student and successor, wrote that “his quote is still used by a lot of people!”
In 2015, nearly 25-years after Dr. Humfeld’s passing, Dr. Adolfo Benavides, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, announced that TAMUC had been classified as a Research 2 institution*. He went on to say that “to be among the select group of 107 universities in the United States is, indeed, quite an honor. What a fantastic way to begin writing the history of our next 125 years as one of the leaders in Higher Education—yet another beautiful day to be in Commerce, Texas.”
“Well roared, Lion!” as the Bard would say.
*The R2 designation by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education represents the second highest tier of research activity at a Doctoral granting institution.
When I asked about the possible whereabouts of the banner, professor Jimmy Clark exclaimed “I have it! It’s in our son [Chris’s] bedroom.” (Master Gunnery Sergeant Clark didn’t even know that one)
Percussion professor and current Department Chair, Dr. Brian Zator, remembers the banner being in place “until a few years before the move to the new building.” He added “I have a small wooden sign in my new office with the saying.” Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same, I suppose!
Perhaps the current students of A&M Commerce continue to be inspired in some way by Dr. Humfeld after all.
Professor Humfeld never retired from ET. He fought a long and valiant battle with cancer and died in October 1991 while “still on the payroll,” as professor Clark told me, “they hired me as an adjunct to teach for him in late summer but he was not able to start the fall semester.”
Nancy Jo recalled that her father “felt that you should always keep a positive attitude no matter what the weather or your circumstances. It was that mindset that allowed him to live twice as long as someone with his prognosis would have normally.” Dr. Deaton wrote “I know that is what it [the banner] meant to Neill because I remember when he was dying with cancer. He NEVER complained, never lost his sense of humor, and was always concerned about others.”
Dr. Humfeld just wanted to continue to make music for as long as he could. Dr. Deaton noted that despite being in pain “he continued to lead the church choir and never ever cut rehearsals short.” His final performance was a trombone trio with his students Jimmy and Chris Clark at Commerce High School, Deaton remembers, “when he was so ill he couldn’t carry his trombone out to the stage.”
Yes, it is always a beautiful day in Commerce, or Iowa City, or wherever you happen to find yourself, just as long as you have the right attitude and remember to “bloom where you are planted.” Good advice. Thanks for everything Dr. Humfeld!
Dan Moore, Class of 1981
I wonder if there are other stories out there about how the banner inspired you, or if anyone knows more about its origin? I’m sure the statute of limitations has expired.
Do you have a story about Dr. Humfeld? Feel free to leave a comment below. Corrections, annotations, amplifications, or humorous asides are welcome.
Special thanks to the kind folks who contributed to this post: Nancy Jo Humfeld, James Deaton, Gene Lockhart, Jimmy Clark, Chris Clark, Toppy Hill, Sheila Howell Ratcliff, and Brian Zator.
You can get some pretty strange ideas while mindlessly pushing a smoky, sputtering lawn-mower around in the middle of a deep East Texas heat wave. It was the summer of 1972 and I was mowing lawns to earn money to be able to make the scene at the Longview Rollercade that night. As I sculpted ever-shrinking geometric designs into the thick Bermudagrass—like a Michelangelo of Mowing—my mind began to wander and I was deep in thought. On that particular Saturday, I was pondering my future as a musician. Having been a percussionist for nearly three years, I felt that something needed to happen in my musical career this year—something big!
As I stopped to refill the gas tank and wipe the sweat from my eyes, it hit me. I should join the Longview Symphony. At that moment the decision was made, my mind was made up, and I decided to ask my private drum teacher, Mr. Don Lawler, if I could join up.
In 1968, Mr. Lawler and Dr. James Snowden had formed the Longview Symphony Orchestra and Mr. Lawler was principal timpanist. In December 1971, Mr. Lawler had invited me to attend the orchestra’s first *Children’s Concert and dress rehearsal so I could watch him in action. Seeing him on the stage convinced me that playing music was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. (You can also get some pretty strange notions sitting on the front row of an orchestra concert)
*Dr. Snowden recognized very early the importance of Children’s Concerts in the development of both future musicians and audiences. His dissertation from the University of Colorado is titled: The Role of the Symphony Orchestra Youth Concert in Music Education.
So, at my next lesson I made the request and, after a considerable amount of persuading and begging, Mr. Lawler agreed to discuss the matter with my junior high band director, Mr. Jimmy Yancey. After some discussion, they decided that I could probably read music well enough to at least smash a cymbal or bang a bass drum on cue every now and then. After all, smashing and banging is a defining characteristic of all percussionists—right? They, in turn, convinced Dr. Snowden, who was the fledgling orchestra’s conductor, to try me out under two conditions: I must first behave myself and second not do anything stupid, or say anything stupid. It sounded like three conditions to me, but I wasn’t going to argue. I was in the orchestra!
The big night came for my first rehearsal with the Longview Symphony and I was so excited that I arrived two hours early and sat twitching with anticipation on the steps of the high school band hall just waiting for my chance to do some high-class smashing and banging. Eventually, the doors opened, and I and the other, much older, musicians filed in. “Some of these people look really old,” I thought to myself, “they must be in high school or something.”
As I made my way to the back of the room, I didn’t see Mr. Lawler or any other percussionists for that matter. Who would show me the ropes? I didn’t know which of these confusing parts I should play and perhaps most important, I didn’t know that the first hour of rehearsal that night was for strings only! But “I can handle this,” I thought, “I have three years of experience after all.”
The Percussion parts were laid out neatly on a music stand and Dr. Snowden called up the first piece for rehearsal. I grabbed what I considered to be the most interesting part, the “timbales” (Actually, I took that part because it was the only word on any of the pages I recognized). I quickly went to fetch the two small, gleaming chrome drums used commonly for Latin-American dance music, and known to all good percussionists as “timbales.” The percussion music was interesting and had some notation that I had never seen before. It was composed by a person with a funny French-sounding name.
Dr. Snowden gave the downbeat and we were off and running. The strings sawed away passionately to which I added “rrrrap-tap-tappy-tap” on the timbales with a fervor that might have made Ricky Ricardo jealous. Yet try as I might, the two parts just didn’t seem to go together. One at a time, members of the orchestra began to turn around and stare. Older members shook their heads, the younger ones (girls in particular) giggled, and then turned away. “They must be impressed,” I thought, “they can’t believe what a great job I’m doing back here, and at such a tender age.”
Finally, my infernal tapping became too much for Dr. Snowden to bear. He stopped the orchestra and inquired as to what—exactly—I thought I was doing. When I replied that I was playing the timbale part, the entire orchestra erupted in unison laughter. How was I supposed to know that “timbales” was actually French for timpani? You know—timpani—those massive, copper, kettle-shaped bowls that produce the most grand and dramatic sound of the percussion family and even the entire orchestra. Grand and dramatic, not rrrrap-tap-tappy-tap.
That was to be my introduction to the Longview Symphony, and the first of many important lessons I would learn from them. The orchestra ladies took me under their wing and taught me a variety of valuable lessons such as that dark socks are much preferred to white socks when wearing a tuxedo, and how to tell if your cummerbund is on upside-down (after learning what a cummerbund is of course).
A few of the lessons were harder but no less important. I once missed a dress rehearsal for a big concert. When I showed up the night of the concert, Dr. Snowden wouldn’t allow me to play. I sat on the stage throughout the entire concert then stood at the edge of the section whenever the other percussionists played. I watched my parts go by unplayed and hoped that my mother didn’t notice that I wasn’t actually doing anything. It was one of the few concerts she was able to attend, and all I did was stand there. Lesson learned!
I played with the Longview Symphony from ninth-grade through high school and into college; my formative years as well as theirs. I started in the orchestra as “Danny” but by the next season, I had been promoted to “Daniel.” With the LSO I was exposed for the first time to great repertoire such as the Overture to Candide, Academic Festival Overture, Carnival of the Animals, Carmina Burana, and The Pines of Rome, to name just a few, and I got to sit next to musicians who were much better than me which is how you grow as a musician.
The first time I performed Igor Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale was in 1976 as a high school senior. In his dissertation, A History of the Longview Symphony Orchestra of Longview, Texas from 1968-2011, Author Gene H. Moon wrote “The work was performed by first desk players in the orchestra: Betty Grout, violin; Walter Caughey, cello [sic]; Richard Cammack, clarinet; Winnie Voss; bassoon; Gary Jordan, cornet; Lynn Childers, trombone and Danny Moore, percussion.” It was one of the highlights of my senior year even though Dr. Snowden changed my name back to Danny—the name he calls me to this day—in the concert program. Though not known to me at the time, this concert also happened to be a turning point for the orchestra. Writer Suzanne Thomas of the Longview Daily News wrote that “Snowden chose four compositions to comprise possibly the most difficult program yet played by the local musicians.” At the time I had no clue that the little community orchestra was struggling to find its way just like I was.
In the early days, The Longview Symphony always swung for the fences in both repertoire and in guest artists. I had the opportunity to perform with artists such as Eugene Fodor, Gary Karr, James Dick, Ralph Kirshbaum, and others. Those years paved the way for a professional orchestra still operating more than fifty years later.
But perhaps the most important lesson I learned from the LSO—one I would never forget—was the French word for timpani.
Fast forward some twenty-odd years and I find myself in the middle of the biggest exam in my college and professional career; the exhausting two-day comprehensive examination for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in percussion performance at the University of Kentucky. For part of the exam I had to identify works and composers from a single page of a score. Everything was going well until I came to a page and drew a complete blank. I was tired from the exam and couldn’t think straight, but just as I was about to give up, I happened to notice the word “timbales.” Suddenly, I was transported back to that first night with the Longview Symphony and trying to figure out why this composer with a funny French-sounding name wrote for Ricky Ricardo timbales. The words I needed flowed out like grass from a side-discharge mower. Thanks, Longview Symphony!
Danny Moore is a 1976 graduate of Longview High School where he was a member of the Band, Jazz Band, and was president of the Orchestra. He played percussion with the Concert Choir and for Theater Department productions, and served as a percussionist with the Longview Symphony from 1972 to 1979. He is, however, no longer known as the Michelangelo of Mowing.
Moon, Gene H. A History of the Longview Symphony Orchestra of Longview, Texas from 1968-2011, DMA thesis, University of Oklahoma, 2012
Snowden, James Wyn. The Role of the Symphony Orchestra Youth Concert in Music Education,PhD thesis, The University of Colorado, 1979
Thomas, Suzanne. Longview Morning Journal, “Symphony Shows High Polish Here”, Monday, April 26, 1976.